Kathmandu/New Delhi: Over 1,500 people were killed and thousands were injured when a massive earthquake - lasting about 20 frightening seconds - and several strong aftershocks caused widespread destruction in Nepal. India too was affected.
In Nepal, buildings were flattened, roads cracked, telephone connectivity snapped and hospitals grappled with a large number of injured who were extricated from the rubble after the country was hit by the temblor at 11.41 a.m. India time. The epicentre of the quake was Nepal's Lamjung district, some 75 km northwest of capital Kathmandu. Over 50 aftershocks were also felt.
According to Nepal's Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat, at least 1,570 people have died in the disaster.
Citing the Nepal Army, he told reporters that 1,457 bodies have been recovered from various quake-hit sites while 1,055 people were injured.
In Sindhupalchowk district, over 250 were killed.
In Kathmandu alone, 181 people were killed, in Bhaktapur 144, and in Lalitpur district 88. Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur together form Nepal's capital.
Indian Home Secretary L.C. Goel told the media that 34 people were killed in India. There were 23 dead in Bihar, three were killed in West Bengal while eight people died in Uttar Pradesh.
The tremors were felt across India, right from Srinagar to Kochi, and Jaipur to Guwahati.
At least two Indians have died in Nepal.
“I can confirm only two Indian deaths now -- one in the embassy and one in a hospital,” Ambassador Rae said.
Asked about other Indian casualties, he said it was difficult to give exact figures as the phone lines were down and it was tough to contact the proper authorities.
He said the embassy was in touch with some Indians stranded in Muktinath and Jomsom, adding that embassy officials have been dispatched to hotels and hospitals.
The ambassador said that around 250 Indians were being evacuated on Saturday night.
Kathmandu, which is a much sought after tourist destination, bore the brunt of the devastation. People watched in disbelief as a number of its old buildings, including the Dharahara - a nine-storey 19th-century tower - collapsed. There was also damage to the walls surrounding Nepal's royal palace.
The revered Pashupatinath temple did not appear to have suffered any major damage.
Ten mountaineers were killed at the Mount Everest Base Camp when the temblor triggered an avalanche, an official at the Nepal tourism ministry said.
The earth heaved and panic-stricken people rushed out of their homes and offices.
IANS correspondent Anil Giri, who is based in Kathmandu, spoke of the horror.
He said over 1,000 buildings in Kathmandu have been destroyed, including historical structures. Thousands of people were out in the open. Electricity has been cut-off and wi-fi services are down. Hospitals are packed with the injured and the army is out in full force to help rescue people.
Kathmandu is a warren of tightly packed houses and narrow streets and these were filled with wailing people who panicked further as aftershocks rocked the area.
A young woman, who clutched a blood soaked handkerchief to her forehead, cried and said that she was worried about her family. She said that she did not get the time to safely escape from her home which came crashing down. "I was terrified," she said at a hospital here.
A former Nepal minister said there had been "massive damage" at the epicentre Lamjung.
Sadbhavana Party chief Rajendra Mahto told IANS that it was difficult to estimate the loss so soon after the disaster but Kathmandu and its neighbourhood had suffered a lot of damage.
"We will need support from neighbours, especially India, and international agencies...," said Mahto, who was a member of the first Constituent Assembly and a minister in several administrations.
The Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu was indefinitely shut on Saturday, resulting in the cancellation of all the eight subsequent return flights from India bound for the capital city.
The airport, according to aviation officials in Delhi, was opened in the evening, but only for non-commercial and relief operations. Some airlines like SpiceJet said they had been asked by Indian authorities to keep an aircraft ready to lift supplies from here and bring back stranded passengers.
Soon after the quake struck, an IndiGo flight for Nepal, which had left at 11:30 a.m. from New Delhi, had to be recalled and the departures of two others were suspended, official here said. The flight of Nepalese carrier Buddha Air, bound for Varanasi, was among the eight flights that were called off.
The daughter of an employee of the Indian embassy was killed when a building in the embassy complex in Kathmandu collapsed.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promptly directed dispatch of relief and rescue teams, including medical help to Nepal, as well as to the affected areas in India.
He chaired a high-level meeting to review the situation.
Modi spoke to Nepal President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who was abroad, and assured all assistance. He also spoke to the chief ministers of affected states in India like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Sikkim and Madhya Pradesh.
A meeting of the Nepal cabinet was held in the evening. It termed the earthquake a national crisis and sought international help.
India has sent two plane loads of relief material and rescue personnel to Nepal. The planes carried 45 rescue personnel and some sniffer dogs to help in rescue operations.
An air force spokesperson said that the Kathmandu airport runway was intact and aircraft could land there. All civilian flights have been cancelled.
Images showed that the quake had left the people of Nepal stunned. Besides capital Kathmandu and Besisahar in Lamjung, the cities which were affected include Bharatpur, Pokhara and Kirtipur.
Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae told IANS that "the old towns in the Kathmandu Valley have been affected in the earthquake".
Witnesses said this appeared to be "the most massive earthquake to hit central Nepal since 1934". In that quake, which was of 8.0 magnitude and centred near Mount Everest, more than 10,000 people were reported killed. Kathmandu was all but destroyed.
In India, reports from across north India said people feared for their lives. Some of them began to pray and tried to get as far away as possible from buildings. Most ran to open grounds. Many of the high-rises saw people rush out in large numbers.
"Suddenly people started saying their heads were reeling, fans were shaking. Tables and chairs were shaking. As realisation dawned that it was an earthquake, people made a dash for the exit," said K. Chakraborty, an employee of a nationalised bank in Kolkata.
In Kochi, an employee said: "Our office is on the seventh floor and close to 12 noon, I felt my pen moving on the table. I felt my chair was moving. I got up and saw my colleagues running."
According to a Xinhua report from Beijing, the powerful earthquake that struck neighbouring Nepal has killed 12 people and injured many more in Tibet, southwest China.
It killed seven people in the county of Nyalam and five people in the county of Gyirong, authorities said. Both the counties in Xigaze are about 40 km from the epicentre.
(Anil Giri can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Aroonim Bhuyan at email@example.com)