In earthquake’s deadly aftermath, Nepalis grieve the loss of their sacred landmarks – Washington Post

In the chill of a post-rain morning, ­Punya Ram Kawang, a teacher, was standing before a mound of rubble in his torn neighborhood Monday, trying to figure out how to grieve.

His house was a pile. His neighbor, who is 70, was wailing and wiping her eyes with the hem of her sari. Around the corner, four temples of his city — revered, loved by all — were gone. In the heart of this ­UNESCO-honored place, a swirl of bricks engulfed a precious idol. Mighty stone lions now guarded steps to nowhere.

“I’ve lost count of how many things to weep about,” Kawang said. “What do I do? Do I cry over the ancient temples? Do I cry about my neighbors and friends or my own home, which is now in ruins?”

Three days after the terrible earthquake shook Nepal — ­killing more than 4,300 people, toppling centuries-old monuments and engulfing Mount Everest’s base camp in an avalanche — the scope of the devastation was becoming clearer.

International aid was beginning to arrive, and rescue crews in Nepal expanded helicopter searches Monday into mountain villages thought to be the worst hit from the powerful earthquake and where scores are feared dead.

“The army ramped up efforts to rescue in remote areas and were able to bring few survivors today,” said an official at Nepal’s National Emergency Operation Center. In some areas, “only houses that have concrete pillars still stand. Everything else is destroyed.”

Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala told Reuters Tuesday that the death toll in his country’s devastating earthquake could reach 10,000 as he appealed for intensified rescue efforts.

“The government is doing all it can for rescue and relief on a war footing,” Koirala said in the interview with the news agency. “It is a challenge and a very difficult hour for Nepal.”

Koirala said authorities were still unable to reach some remote areas. He said more than 7,000 people had been injured.

“The army ramped up efforts to rescue in remote areas and were able to bring few survivors today,” said an official at Nepal’s National Emergency Operation Center. In some areas, “only houses that have concrete pillars still stand. Everything else is destroyed.”

Although the official death toll was much lower, if Koirala proves right, that figure would surpass the 8,500 killed in a massive 1934 quake, the Himalayan nation’s worst disaster to date.

Koirala plans to address the country later Tuesday, an aide told Reuters.

Throughout the country, food, water and medicine ran low, and makeshift tent camps sprang up for those whose homes were lost and for those too scared to return home to unsteady structures. Hospitals overflowed with patients. Electricity and telephone service was sporadic in Kathmandu, the capital. Smoke from mass cremations wafted over the devastation after skies cleared following torrential rain.

Aftershocks continued. In Kathmandu, nearly 10,000 displaced people set up a tent city in the middle of a large soccer field and army grounds, colorful trekking tents belying the grim nature of their circumstances.

The place had only three filthy bathrooms, according to pharmacist Lok Bahadur Khadka, who had taken refuge there with his extended family — 30 people living under one fairly large tent. Nepalese army soldiers brought food — a potato dish and crunchy puri, a fried bread. The dispossessed residents pushed and shoved one another for the hot meal, their first since Saturday.

Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday that the U.S. military has sent two cargo planes to Nepal, with about 130 personnel. They include a U.S. disaster team and two urban search-and-rescue teams, one of them from Fairfax County, Va.

A 26-person U.S. Army Special Forces team, which was in the country for a joint training mission when the quake occurred, will be reassigned to help victims, partly in the Everest region. Rescuers there were able to bring down dozens of climbers who had been trapped in camps above the site of a deadly avalanche Saturday that killed at least 19. More remain missing.

Among those killed in the Everest region were at least four U.S. citizens, according to the State Department, including one who had not previously been identified. They were listed as Dan Fredinburg, a Google executive from the San Francisco Bay area; Marisa Eve Girawong, a physician’s assistant from Seattle; Thomas Ely Taplin, a filmmaker from Colorado; and Vinh B. Truong.

Sitanshu Kar, a spokesman for India’s Defense Ministry, said on Twitter that Indian air force pilots have been flying rescue sorties over the country’s rugged terrain with their Nepalese army counterparts, dropping supplies and ferrying out more than 100 people. Several other nations have provided aid, including China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Israel, as well as the European Union.

Kathmandu’s small airport — the main lifeline for the capital — struggled to handle the influx of flights, and many workers were not at their posts; they were either casualties of the quake or dealing with the aftermath. Thousands more people crowded in, hoping for a flight out. Planes brought sobering reminders that the full reckoning of the tragedy is not over: cadaver-sniffing dogs from India and equipment from Europe and elsewhere for field hospitals.

Of Nepal’s 75 districts, about 30, mostly in the western and central regions, have suffered damage in the quake. But communication remained difficult, complicating assessments on the scope of the needs, according to Save the Children, an international aid group. Nearly 1 million children have been affected in the disaster, according to ­UNICEF, and many of them are sleeping outside in the cold and rain with their parents.

In Kathmandu, the 5th-century Pashupatinath Temple became a scene of mass cremation; several pyres along the Bagmati River filled the air with the smell of burning flesh and incense. Relatives gathered around their loved ones, with one woman collapsing when the body of her brother was brought in on a bier. “My little brother was not even married, and now you are taking him away?” she wailed.

The temple has performed 286 cremations since the earthquake, with dozens more to complete, according to Shambu Prasad Poudel, the duty officer for the cremation ground’s welfare office.

“We do not have enough labor, management or coordination of the cremation activities,” he said. “The numbers are overwhelming.”

Many of the mourners did not wait for the temple, merely wading out into the river mud and burning the bodies themselves, he said.

The historic temple managed to withstand Saturday’s devastating earthquake, even as portions of the country’s historic sites did not. The capital’s Durbar Square was wrecked, and the landmark Dharahara Tower fell.

In Bhaktapur, four of the temples in its majestic Durbar Square — built by Nepalese kings — collapsed, leaving heaps of rubble strewn with priceless carvings of elephants and lotus blossoms. Many spectators came to see the damage Monday, surveying it with their hands touching their cheeks and with some silently weeping. For the Nepalese, these losses were simply unimaginable.

“Any time I see it, it feels like my heart has stopped beating,” said Rajesh Pradhan, 47, who owns a small cafe at the square. “Hundreds of years, gone. This earthquake has cut off the right arm and the left arm of Nepal’s tourism industry. How will we rebuild?”

Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries, has long depended on tourist dollars from Mount Everest climbers and others visiting the heritage sites to boost its economy — 800,000 foreigners visited in 2013, according to the Tourism Ministry.

In the lanes of homes near the temple complex, Kawang, the teacher, led a group of volunteers looking for those still trapped, though they had slim hopes of finding anybody alive.

They had rescued a young man Sunday and had gone on to pull out 22 bodies. Armed with saws, shovels and metal rods, they moved through the street — past drooping power lines still wet from the night’s rain — toward a mound. There, the faintest contours of a hand were visible. The 23rd body.

“Everywhere around me I see destruction,” Kawang said. “I have lost everything. But I have to remind myself I have a social responsibility, too. I can’t sit holding my head in horror forever.”

Gowen reported from Itanagar, India. Anup Kaphle, Missy Ryan, Carol Morello and Brian Murphy in Washington and Daniela Deane in London contributed to this report.

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