Tensions rise in Nepal after weak response to deadly quake

Wednesday, Apr 29, 2015,18:16 IST By metrovaartha A A A

* Anger and frustration grow as Nepalis wait for help
* Officials concede mistakes made in early stages of rescue
* Tensions rise between stranded Nepalis and foreigners
* Death toll passes 5,000, almost 10,000 injured
Kathmandu | The death toll from the devastating earthquake in Nepal four days ago rose past 5,000 today as officials conceded they had made mistakes in their initial response, leaving survivors stranded in remote villages waiting for aid and relief.
The government has yet to fully assess the devastation wrought by Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake, unable to reach many mountainous areas despite aid supplies and personnel pouring in from around the world.
Anger and frustration were mounting steadily, with many Nepalis sleeping out in the open under makeshift tents for a fourth night since the country’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
This is a disaster on an unprecedented scale. There have been some weaknesses in managing the relief operation, Nepal’s Communication Minister Minendra Rijal said late yesterday.
We will improve this from today.
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has told Reuters the death toll could reach 10,000, with information on casualties and damage from far-flung villages and towns yet to come in.
That would surpass the 8,500 who died in a 1934 earthquake, the last disaster on this scale to hit the Himalayan nation of 28 million people that sits between India and China.
Rescue helicopters have been unable to land in remote mountainous areas. Shambhu Khatri, a technician on board one of the helicopters, said entire hillsides had collapsed in parts of the worst-hit Gorkha district, burying settlements, and access was impossible.
The big challenge is to find a place to land, he said.
A health official in Laprak, a village in the district best known as the home of Gurkha soldiers, estimated that 1,600 of the 1,700 houses in the village had been razed.
An official from Nepal’s home ministry said the number of confirmed deaths had risen to 5,006. Almost 10,000 were injured in Nepal, and more than 80 were also killed in India and Tibet.
In the capital Kathmandu and other cities, hospitals quickly overflowed with injured soon after the quake, with many being treated out in the open or not at all.
Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi appealed for specialist doctors from overseas, as well as for search-and-rescue teams despite earlier suggestions from officials that Nepal did not need such assistance.
Our top priority is for relief and rescue teams. We need neurologists, orthopaedic surgeons and trauma surgeons, Bairagi said.
Yesterday, the head of the United Nations Development Programme in Nepal told Reuters that Kathmandu had told aid agencies it did not need more foreign rescue teams because its government and military could cope.
Experts from a Polish NGO that has an 87-strong team in Nepal have said the chances of finding people alive in the ruins five days after the quake were next to zero.
International aid has begun arriving in Nepal, but disbursement has been slow, partly because aftershocks have sporadically closed the airport.
Some vendors had started selling fruit on Kathmandu’s streets but others said they were too scared to open their shops because buildings had been so badly damaged.
I want to start selling, I have children at home, but how can I open a shop where it is risky for me to sit inside? said Arjun Rai, a 54-year-old who runs a general store.
In a rare glimmer of hope, a Nepali-French rescue team pulled a 28-year-old man, Rishi Khanal, from a collapsed apartment block in Kathmandu yesterday after he had spent around 80 hours trapped in a room with three dead bodies.
Aftershocks, severe damage from the quake, creaking infrastructure and a lack of funds have complicated rescue efforts. Food, water and power are in short supply.
Tensions between foreigners and Nepalis desperate for relief were starting to rise, rescuers said, as fresh avalanches were reported in several areas.
Members of an Israeli search-and-rescue group named Magnus said hundreds of tourists, including about 100 Israelis, were stranded in Langtang in Rasuwa district, a popular trekking area north of Kathmandu hit by a fresh avalanche yesterday.
Fights had broken out there because of food shortages, Magnus team member Amit Rubin said. Villagers think the tourists are taking too much food, Rubin said.
In other remote areas where rescue helicopters were unable to land, soldiers had started to make their way overland, first by bus, then by foot.
In Sindhupalchowk, about 3 1/2 hours by road northeast of Kathmandu, the earthquake was followed by landslides, killing 1,206 people and seriously injuring close to 400.
The quake also triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed at least 18 climbers and guides, including four foreigners, the worst disaster on the world’s highest peak.