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Death toll in Nepal continues to rise, rescue operations in full swing


Death toll in Nepal continues to riseKATHMANDU: Rescuers dug with their bare hands and bodies piled up in Nepal on Sunday after an earthquake devastated the heavily crowded Kathmandu valley, killing at least 1,900, and triggered a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest.

Army office Santosh Nepal led a group of rescuers that worked all night to open a passage into a collapsed building in the capital of Kathmandu. They had to use pick axes because bulldozers could not get through the ancient city's narrow streets.

"We believe there are still people trapped inside," he told Reuters, pointing at concrete debris and twisted reinforcement rods that was once a three-storey residential building.

Among the capital's landmarks destroyed in the earthquake was the 60-metre (200-foot) Dharahara Tower, built in 1832 for the queen of Nepal, with a viewing balcony that had been open to visitors for the last 10 years.

A jagged stump was all that was left of the lighthouse-like structure. As bodies were pulled from the ruins, a policeman said up to 200 people had been trapped inside.

Bodies were still arriving at one hospital in Kathmandu, where police officer Sudan Shreshtha said his team had brought 166 corpses overnight.

"I am tired and exhausted, but I have to work and have the strength," Shreshtha told Reuters as an ambulance brought three more victims to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital.

Bodies were heaped in a dark room; some covered with cloth, some not. A boy aged about seven lay, his face half missing and his stomach bloated like a football. The stench of death was overpowering.

PEOPLE STILL TRAPPED

The earthquake, centred 50 miles (80 km) east of the second city, Pokhara, was all the more destructive for being shallow.

Rescue operations had still not begun in towns in some remote areas.

Across the city, rescuers scrabbled through destroyed buildings, among them ancient, wooden Hindu temples.

"I can see three bodies of monks trapped in the debris of a collapsed building near a monastery," Indian tourist Devyani Pant told Reuters. "We are trying to pull the bodies out and look for anyone who is trapped."

Neighbouring India, where 44 people were reported killed in the quake and its aftershocks, sent military aircraft to Nepal with medical equipment and relief teams. It also said it had dispatched 285 members of its National Disaster Response Force.

In Tibet, the death toll climbed to 17, according to a tweet from China's state news agency, Xinhua.

International aid groups readied staff to go to Nepal to help provide clean water, sanitation and emergency food, while the United States, Britain and Pakistan were among countries providing search-and-rescue experts.

More than 1,000 climbers were on Everest at the start of their season when disaster struck.

Romanian climber Alex Gavan tweeted on Saturday that there had been a "huge earthquake then huge avalanche" at Everest base camp, forcing him to run for his life.

In a later tweet he made a desperate appeal for a helicopter to fly in and evacuate climbers who had been hurt: "Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap."

In the Annapurna mountain range, where scores were killed in the nation's worst trekking accident last year, many hikers were stranded after the quake, according to messages on social media, but no deaths there had been reported.

Nepal, sandwiched between India and China, has had its share of natural disasters. Its worst earthquake in 1934 killed more than 8,500 people.
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