Nepal Earthquake: Rescuers Hunt for Survivors as Death Toll Rises – Wall Street Journal

KATMANDU, Nepal—Residents of the earthquake-hit Nepalese capital huddled in the dark beneath plastic tarps in streets and parks Sunday night, after a day in which soldiers and police dug, often by hand, in the rubble of collapsed buildings to rescue survivors.

More than 2,400 people were confirmed dead after Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, which devastated a broad swath of the Himalayan nation, severely damaging the historic heart of Katmandu, flattening remote villages and triggering an avalanche on Mount Everest.

“It’s a very desperate situation,” a spokesman for Nepal’s national police, Kamal Singh Bam, said Sunday. “The death toll is very high and it will go up even more. Rescue operations are slow because we don’t have all the proper facilities.”

The scale of the disaster poses a major challenge for the government of Nepal, one of the world’s poorest and least-developed countries. It also delivered a significant blow to the small nation’s already slow-growing economy.

“It will take many months just to get back to normalcy,” said Krishna Prasad Dhakal, deputy chief of mission at Nepal’s embassy in New Delhi.

A large, 6.7-magnitude aftershock—strong enough to shake buildings 700 miles away in the Indian capital, New Delhi—hit Sunday afternoon, sowing panic and causing more destruction and injury, police and witnesses said.

Fear of further temblors kept many people outdoors in Katmandu and the surrounding valley, home to more than 2.5 million people, despite rain Sunday night.

Dozens of patients slept in makeshift tents pitched in front of the Om Hospital and Research Centre in Katmandu. “I wanted to come out here because we feared the quake would repeat,” said Hyat Mohammad, who suffered a broken hip.


Others camped out on the hospital porch or bedded down on the floor of the entrance hall. A family was wrapped in a pink-and-purple blanket emblazoned with the words “Best Wishes.” One woman had broken both her legs when her stone house collapsed on top of her.

By Sunday night, the official police death toll stood at 2,482, but officials said they expected it to rise as search teams reached more-remote areas. More than 6,100 people were injured.

Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations resident coordinator in Nepal, said local hospitals were overstretched and in need of medical supplies. There are “very challenging scenes right now as we try to determine rescue efforts,” he said.

Hundreds of Indian soldiers and disaster-response personnel flew into Nepal over the weekend to help, bringing with them field hospitals, relief supplies, excavators and other equipment. A Chinese search-and-rescue team also arrived.

But progress was hard to gauge, given the scope of the damage, the police spokesman, Mr. Bam, said. On Sunday, Nepalese army and police teams focused on the Katmandu Valley, and it could be days before rescue specialists reached remote and mountainous areas, he said.

Uddav Timilsina, chief district officer of Gorkha, near the quake’s epicenter, said Sunday that thousands of homes were destroyed and 80% of schools razed. He said 500 police and soldiers were hunting for survivors and recovering bodies of the dead.

“We are getting reports that 10 people are missing here, 50 people are missing there,” Mr. Timilsina said. “But it is very, very difficult to say what is actually the situation on the ground.”

He said large parts of his district, particularly those in remote and mountainous areas, remained cut off. Landslides, which Mr. Timilsina said continued Sunday morning, blocked roads and endangered rescue teams.

“Phone lines are down, there is no access, we don’t have any data from there right now,” he said.

The quakes triggered an avalanche that killed 17 people and injured more than 60 on Mount Everest. International mountaineers and local guides were at a base camp on the mountain, preparing for ascents of the world’s highest peak.

Family members broke down during the cremation of earthquake victims in Bhaktapur, near Katmandu, on Sunday.

Rescue workers removed debris as they search for victims of earthquake in Bhaktapur on Sunday.

A rescue team member works to dig out the body of a woman from a collapsed house in Bhaktapur.

A rescue helicopter transports injured people from Mount Everest base camp on April 26, a day after an avalanche triggered by an earthquake devastated the camp.

Members of a Japanese rescue team heading to Nepal present their passports at Narita International Airport, Japan.

People sleep on a street in Katmandu, Nepal.

Emergency rescue workers carry a victim in Katmandu.

Residents look in shock in Katmandu.

Residents walk by collapsed buildings and power lines in the capital.

People approach Mount Everest’s base camp after the quake triggered an avalanche.

A Nepalese man and woman hold each other in Katmandu's Durbar Square Saturday.

Volunteers run with a stretcher in Katmandu.

Emergency workers and bystanders clear debris while searching for survivors in Durbar Square.

People clear rubble in Katmandu.

People search for survivors under the rubble in Durbar Square.

Rescuers look for victims under a building that collapsed in Katmandu.

People rescued a man in Katmandu.

People try to free a man from the rubble of a destroyed building in Katmandu.

Volunteers help with rescue work at the site of a collapsed building in Katmandu.

Nepali rescue members and onlookers gather at the collapsed Dharahara Tower, Katmandu.

Deadliest Earthquakes of the 21st Century

  • Jan. 12, 2010: A 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti killed an estimated 316,000 people, claiming more lives as a percentage of a country’s population than any recorded disaster.
  • Dec. 26, 2004: A massive 9.1-magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean left 227,898 people dead or presumed dead.
  • May 12, 2008: A 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan, China, killing 87,587 and injuring about 375,000.
  • Oct. 8, 2005: A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in Pakistan killed 80,361 and injured more than 69,000.
  • Dec. 26, 2003: A 6.6-magnitude earthquake killed at least 31,000 people in southeastern Iran, injuring 30,000 and leaving 75,600 homeless.
  • Source: U.S. Geological Survey, The Wall Street Journal.

Authorities in neighboring India said more than 60 people had died there as a result of the quake. Across the border in China, 18 died, according to government news agency Xinhua. Four Chinese nationals were among the dead in Nepal, Xinhua said.

On Saturday, Sushil Chaudhari, a 42-year-old human-rights activist in Katmandu, said he watched in horror as the nine-story Dharahara tower in Katmandu’s center collapsed with his wife’s 16-year-old nephew, who had just finished high-school exams, inside.

When the quake hit, “there was no time to think or react. It just fell, just like that,” Mr. Chaudhari said. “I was paralyzed, people were screaming. I saw people die right in front of my eyes.” Mr. Chaudhari found his young relative’s body buried under broken bits of the tower.

Historic neighborhoods of Nepal’s capital were among the most damaged parts of the city, as some of the country’s oldest buildings crumbled, leaving piles of old bricks.

Death at 19,000 Feet

Katmandu and its suburbs are full of centuries-old historical sites, including temples, palaces and courtyards, many of them more than 300 years old. Seven areas of the Katmandu Valley are protected as a Unesco World Heritage site.

The U.S. Geological Survey revised the magnitude of the initial quake to 7.8 from an earlier estimate of 7.9 on Saturday. The epicenter was about 50 miles northwest of Katmandu.

The quake struck in what is known as the Indus-Yarlung suture zone, where the Indian subcontinent meets the Eurasian tectonic plate. The collision of the two, 40 million to 50 million years ago, gave rise to the Himalayas.

It is an area that has been the site of some of the region’s deadliest earthquakes, including one in Kashmir in 2005 that killed more than 80,000 people. A massive earthquake also struck Nepal in 1934, causing mass casualties.

Besides China and India, other Asian countries, including Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, are sending search-and-rescue teams to Nepal. South Korea offered $1 million in emergency relief aid, while Taiwan pledged $300,000.

Meanwhile, Nepalese living abroad tried frantically to get in touch with family back home. Veerman Tamang, a 28-year-old who works in a Delhi restaurant said he was preparing to head back to his home village in Nepal by bus, a trip that under normal conditions takes 36 hours. Mr. Tamang and his wife, Pooja, said they managed to reach a relative by phone briefly after Saturday’s quake. He said his father had been pulled from the rubble with injuries to his head and arm. “I wasn’t able to speak to my mother. I want to make sure she is alive,” Mr. Tamang said.

—Raymond Zhong,
Krishna Pokharel,
and Suryatapa Bhattacharya
contributed to this article.

Write to Niharika Mandhana at and Krishna Pokharel at