KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Rescue workers in Nepal began digging with their hands through the rubble of collapsed houses on Saturday, searching for survivors after the country’s worst earthquake in eight years killed 137 people and shook buildings as far away as New Delhi.
The quake struck at 11:47 p.m. (1802 GMT) on Friday in the Jajarkot region in the western Himalayan country with a magnitude of 6.4, Nepal’s National Seismological Center said. The German GeoResearch Center measured it at 5.7 and the US Geological Survey measured it at 5.6.
Officials fear the death toll could rise as first responders only reached the hilly area near the epicenter, about 500 km (300 miles) west of the capital Kathmandu, early Saturday and began searching for survivors.
“The number of injured could be in the hundreds and the number of deaths could also increase,” Jajarkot district official Harish Chandra Sharma told Reuters by telephone.
Although the magnitude of the quake was not severe, the damage and death toll were likely to be high due to the poor quality of construction in the area and the fact that it struck while people were sleeping, officials said.
Rescue work was expected to progress slowly as emergency teams first had to clear roads blocked by landslides in many places, they said, adding that helicopters and small aircraft had been asked to stand by to join the effort.
The quake is the worst since 2015, when two earthquakes killed around 9,000 people. Entire cities, centuries-old temples and other historic sites were reduced to rubble and more than a million homes were destroyed, costing the economy $6 billion.
Officials said 99 people were killed in Jajarkot and 38 in neighboring Rukum West district, both in Karnali province. The epicenter was in the village of Ramidanda.
In Jajarkot, where 190,000 people live and villages are scattered in remote hills, three towns and three villages were affected, authorities said.
At least 85 people were injured in Rukum West and 55 in Jajarkot, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said.
“Many houses collapsed, many others developed cracks. Thousands of residents spent the entire night in cold, open lots because they were too afraid to go inside the cracked houses as aftershocks struck,” said Sharma.
“I couldn’t go in myself.”
Local television stations showed rescuers digging through the rubble with their bare hands and searching for survivors in the rubble of collapsed houses. Injured people were shown being taken to a rescue helicopter to be taken to hospitals.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal flew to the area early Saturday with a 16-member army medical team to oversee search, rescue and assistance, his office said.
His office appealed to political parties, social workers and the public to donate money to help provide food, water, clothing and tents for survivors.
A small plane carrying medical supplies and health workers was diverted to nearby Surkhet after it was unable to land in Chaurjahari in nearby Rukum district due to bad weather, army spokesman Krishna Bhandari said.
Local media footage showed crumbling facades of multi-story brick houses with large pieces of furniture scattered across them. Videos on X showed people running into the streets as some buildings were evacuated.
The tremors were felt in New Delhi and other parts of northern India, about 600 km (370 miles) away, shaking buildings and forcing people to run into the streets late at night.
Authorities in the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, both of which border Nepal, said there were no reports of damage there.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was deeply saddened by the loss of life and damage in Nepal.
“India stands in solidarity with the people of Nepal and is ready to offer all possible assistance. Our thoughts are with the bereaved and we wish the injured a speedy recovery,” he wrote on X.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; Additional reporting by Saurabh Sharma in LUCKNOW, India; Writing by YP Rajesh; Editing by William Mallard)
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