GORKHA, Nepal: Hungry and desperate villagers rushed towards relief helicopters in remote areas of Nepal Tuesday, begging to be airlifted to safety, four days after a monster earthquake killed more than 5,000 people.
“The ground keeps shaking, even this morning it did. Every time it feels like we will be swallowed, that we will die now. I want to get out of here!” said Sita Gurung, 24, whose home had been wrecked.
As the Himalayan nation’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said getting help to remote areas was a “major challenge”, aid finally began reaching areas that had to fend for themselves since Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake.
In a televised address late Tuesday, Koirala declared three days of national mourning for the 5,057 people known to have perished in Nepal alone.
More than 100 people died in neighboring countries such as India and China.
Around 8,000 people had been injured while the United Nations estimated that eight million people had been affected.
Among the dead were 18 climbers who were at Mount Everest base camp when an avalanche triggered by the quake flattened everything in its path. The victims included two American climbers, an Australian and a Chinese.
Countries far and wide have joined the relief effort in what is one of Asia’s poorest countries, with neighboring India playing a leading role.
In Gorkha, one of the worst-hit districts, terrified residents ran with outstretched arms towards an Indian army helicopter to plead for food and water.
An AFP journalist on board saw scores of houses across several villages in the district turned into twisted mounds of wood and corrugated tin roofs.
“We haven’t had any food here since the earthquake. Everything has changed, we don’t have anything left here,” Gurung told AFP, gesturing towards what was left of her home in the village of Lapu.
An army officer lifted her onto a stretcher and carried her away.
Military planes from numerous other countries such as the United States, China and Israel have also joined the rescue effort.
Koirala told an emergency all-party meeting the government was sending desperately needed tents, water and food supplies to those in need.
But he said authorities were overwhelmed by appeals for help from remote Himalayan villages.
‘Appeals from everywhere’
“Appeals for rescues are coming in from everywhere,” a statement from Koirala’s office quoted him as saying.
“But we have been unable to initiate rescue efforts in many areas at the same time due to lack of equipment and rescue experts.”
Jagdish Chandra Pokherel, a Nepal army spokesman, told AFP: “ The terrain is such that very remote areas take a very long time to reach and without being there physically we won’t be able to reach them, help them, rescue them. Our troops are trying their best.”
In a sign of how difficult conditions are, Nepalese official Uddav Prasad Bhattarai said 250 people were feared missing after an avalanche Tuesday on the popular Langtang trekking route.
With fears rising of food and water shortages, Nepalis were rushing to stores and petrol stations to stock up on essential supplies in the capital Kathmandu.
Nepal has declared a state of emergency after the disaster, its deadliest in more than 80 years.
Families who work in Kathmandu were packing onto buses — some even sitting on the roofs — in an exodus from the city.
Those who remained in the capital were sleeping outdoors in tents in parks and other open spaces. Many had lost their houses, others were too terrified to return home after several powerful aftershocks.
With just plastic sheets to protect them from the elements, many were desperate for aid and information on what to do next.