Hunt on for Nepal quake survivors

At sunrise in Kathmandu’s historic Basantapur Durbar square, army and volunteer rescue workers try to clear the endless mounds of rubble left behind when the city’s historic monuments collapsed. It is feared that dozens of people are still trapped under the debris.

The scene is similar in Bhaktapur, Nepal’s cultural jewel just 12 kilometers from Kathmandu where ancient stone houses crumbled with alarming ease when the tremor struck. Here too, scores of people are thought to lie beneath the ruins. Relatives missing loved ones hope desperately that more survivors will be found alive. The destruction is appalling. Some houses have completely collapsed, while others are damaged beyond repair. Walls have been reduced to piles of rubble, photographs and personal possessions scattered – private details of individual lives cruelly exposed.

Hopes thin 

Recovered bodies add to the growing death toll after Nepal’s worst earthquake in more than 80 years. In Bhaktapur, Buddhist monks perform last rites before cremations in front of grieving families.

The more time passes, the more the chance of pulling survivors out alive from under the rubble diminishes. But there is still hope. 

Peder Damm from the Danish Red Cross told IRIN that past examples of survivors being found alive up to 10 days after such disasters drives their determination to continue the rescue effort until all the bodies have been recovered. 

Hospitals are overstretched and understaffed.

A staff member at the trauma centre at Bir Hospital in Kathmandu, one of dozens of places where the injured are being taken in the capital, said doctors there were treating some 500 patients at a time. Like an endless human conveyor belt, the hospital is accepting new patients almost continuously while discharging those whose needs have been met.

“I already had my first aid certification, so I thought that I could be of help here. I have to help out,” 27-year-old volunteer Chiran Rai told IRIN as she helped change dressings.

Survivors sleep in the open

Many survivors are too afraid to go back to their homes and plan to spend another night sleeping out in the open. Public parks, school courtyards, vegetable gardens, and any other available spaces are filling up with tents and makeshift shelters. 

Tundikhel, a large field in the centre of Kathmandu, is now home for several thousand earthquake survivors. Some families are sleeping under sheets of tarpaulin donated by the Nepali Red Cross. Others are trying to make do with bits of sheets or umbrellas. Some have nothing at all. 

Regular aftershocks fray already threadbare nerves. Buildings damaged by the initial earthquake are now potential hazards.

Concerns are growing about basic necessities. Lines at petrol stations are already hundreds of vehicles long and most of the city is still without electricity. Aid agencies are also warning of a shortage of drinking water, food and shelter.

Damm says it will take time to set up water purification systems and some will have to be brought in from outside Nepal as the state does not have the capacity to address a disaster of this magnitude.

The rain forecast for the coming days will only make things worse.

jr/rh/ag