Hopes Fade to Find Nepal Survivors Among Thousands Buried

Updated on
Earthquake in Nepal
Nepalese rescue personnel help a trapped earthquake survivor in Swyambhu, in Kathmandu on April 26. Photographer: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images

Hospital workers struggled to treat thousands of wounded after Nepal’s worst earthquake in decades, as the search for survivors entered its fourth day and hopes faded for finding those trapped under rubble.

Governments from around the globe rushed to aid one of Asia’s poorest economies following the magnitude 7.8 temblor on April 25 that killed more than 4,300 people and injured at least 8,100. International relief agencies warned of water-borne diseases spreading as millions camped outdoors.

The army is searching 19 separate areas for survivors, mostly in the Kathmandu valley, Colonel Naresh Subba, director of disaster management in Nepal’s army, said in Kathmandu on Monday. Aerial surveys showed that some villages accessible only by dirt roads have been “completely flattened,” he said.

The quake caused about $2 billion in economic losses in Nepal and only a fraction of the cost will be incurred by insurers, according to Kinetic Analysis Corp. The U.S. government pledged a further $9 million in aid and called it “just the beginning of the effort” to help victims in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

Makeshift tents popped up across Kathmandu, where orange and blue tarps hung on hundreds of buildings at risk of collapse. Hundreds of motorists lined up at petrol stations in the city, raising fears of a fuel shortage that could hinder efforts to provide relief in more remote areas.

Millions Homeless

“Those trapped could be in the thousands, but it’s difficult to estimate right now. Millions are homeless,” Rameshwor Dangal, joint secretary at Nepal’s Home Ministry, said Monday in Kathmandu.

Many people have slept in the open since the quake and require food, water and emergency shelter, while at least 940,000 children live in areas severely affected by the earthquake, the United Nations estimates.

About 3,000 patients were spread through hallways, benches and courtyards at the 600-bed Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu. Medical waste spilled out of a trash can next to a women on a stretcher as doctors looked at X-rays outdoors.

Among the injured were children who suffered from broken bones, with some needing amputations. Many patients had open wounds that doctors are unable to treat due to a lack of manpower and supplies, raising the risk of water-borne diseases.

Doctors Without Borders

Suresh Kayastha, a doctor at the hospital, said the situation outside the capital was even worse.

“No rescuers have gone outside the valley,” Kayastha said early Monday. “There is no government supply of aid in these regions.”

One team has crossed into Nepal by road from India and has reached Gorkha, 73 kilometers (43 miles) northwest of Kathmandu, Doctors Without Borders said in a statement late Monday. A surgical team from Brussels would also be arriving in the capital Tuesday to set up a rapid intervention unit and start performing operations within the vital 72-hour window after the quake, according to a statement.

Tents, Blankets

Authorities appealed for tents, food, blankets and medicines to help those without homes throughout the Himalayan nation. Rains have slowed power restoration and other relief efforts, including the clearing away of corpses.

“The weather is not helping,” Renaud Meyer, country manager for the UN Development Program, told Bloomberg Television. “In normal circumstances it can take several days to reach out to the villages. Now with the rain plus the quake it’s a source of major concern to even have an assessment of the situation in those remote villages.”

At least 19 foreigners including a Google Inc. executive died on Everest after the earthquake. Helicopters evacuated almost all of the 180 climbers who were stuck at Camp 1 and Camp 2 on Everest after the route back to base camp was blocked in an avalanche, Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said by phone on Monday. There are 700 climbers still at base camp.

Those who tried to outrun the avalanche as it tore down the mountainside were among the most heavily injured, Carsten Lillelund Pedersen, a travel blogger and Mount Everest climber who survived by hiding behind a stone alter, told Bloomberg Television.

“This is not an avalanche like you see in the Alps of snow -- this is an avalanche that picked up ice and rocks,” said Pedersen, whose team set up a makeshift medical tent and was treating injuries including head fractures.

Foreigners Killed

The U.S. is aware of at least four citizens killed on Everest, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters. France said two of its citizens were killed in the earthquake, AFP reported, while one Australian died at Everest base camp.

Damage in India could cost an additional $800 million, according to figures from disaster-modeling firm Kinetic that include property damage and long-term business-interruption costs. Less than 1 percent of the losses are covered by insurance, according to Kinetic’s initial data from the main quake. The estimates exclude costs for immediate needs such as food.

“Most developing countries just don’t really have mature insurance industries,” Chuck Watson, Kinetic’s director of research and development, said by phone. “It’s getting by day-to-day. They’re not really concerned with things like insurance.”

Consulting firm IHS said rebuilding costs could easily exceed $5 billion. That’s about a fifth of the annual output of the mostly agrarian economy, which depends on tourism and remittances for foreign exchange.

Everest Season

Tourism is a key economic driver for Nepal, which has a gross domestic product smaller than any of the 50 U.S. states. Its 28 million people have the lowest spending power of any Asian country apart from Afghanistan, IMF statistics show.

Hundreds of people attempt to reach Everest’s summit each year, typically paying a minimum of $30,000 per person and often far more for the privilege, according to an estimate by Outside magazine. The rising numbers of climbers has drawn complaints about overcrowding, littering and heightened danger. April is a peak month for climbing.

“Nepal needs to figure out if they want all the tourists to flee Nepal or want them to stay because Nepal needs money to rebuild their country,” Pederson said, noting how many climbers went to Tibet instead after a string of mountaineering accidents last year. “If we can’t climb Everest this year because of the earthquake and avalanche -- and it is a tragic story -- then I don’t think many will come back next year.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE