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Devastating Himalayan quake kills over 1,500 in Nepal, India

Devastating Himalayan quake kills over 1,500 in Nepal, IndiaKATHMANDU: A powerful 7.9-magnitude earthquake epicentred near Kathmandu ripped through the upper part of the South Asian peninsula on Saturday, rattling the landscape from Myanmar to Punjab, leaving more than 1,500 dead in Nepal alone and flattening cities and towns. As rescue operations, mostly aided by Indian armed forces, mounted in the Himalayan foothills, the toll in India crept towards 100. 

Nepalese police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam told journalists the quake, with its epicenter about 80km from the resort town of Pokhra and about 200km west of Kathmandu, was the worst earthquake in Nepal since 1934. The quake was shallow, meaning close to the surface of the earth, making it deadlier than those which convulse the earth deeper down. 
Special: Nepal-India earthquake 

The temblor began rumbling across the densely-populated Kathmandu Valley around noon before spreading toward the Himalayas, Tibet, northern and eastern India, Bangladesh and eastern Pakistan. While two deaths were reported from Bangladesh, agencies said at least six people were killed in Tibet. No casualties were reported from Myanmar or Bhutan. 

"The Himalayan tectonics underneath are really writhing, so many shocks one after another. Aftershocks is a misnomer,'' tweeted Nepalese writer Kanak Mani Dixit. He reported aftershocks till late in the evening. 

Himalayan Times editorial advisor Joseph Nathan said tremors were still on at 9pm though they were getting milder. 

"Fear has gripped Kathmandu and people are all out in the streets and open areas for fear of another round of major tremors. It is dark and chilly, with no power, rather total blackout, no piped gas supply and no water supply,'' he said. 

"The biggest worry in the city now is about the sanitation problem that is going to hit by tomorrow (Sunday) morning. Even the big hotels which have piped gas supply are without it.'' 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in remarks made at the Jnanpith awards ceremony, said India's 1.2 billion people shared Nepal's grief and were with them at this hour of need. 

As the convulsions subsided and the dust cleared, what emerged was a battered Kathmandu. The city's biggest tourist draw, Durbar Square, was a pile of bricks with a few temples standing. 

Nathan said surprisingly the new buildings survived better than the old constructions. "...200 to 300 year old temples have been reduced to the ground including...the Durbar Square.'' 

The 1832-built Dharahara tower, built as a viewing post for Nepal's queen, was reduced to a 10-metre stump. TV visuals showed clouds of dust swirling as panicked residents ran out of homes and buildings while walls tumbled, trees swayed and power lines came crashing down. 

Around 200 people, who had climbed the 60-metre Dharahara to get a bird's eye view of the Valley, were buried under the debris. Several bodies were extracted from the rubble of the landmark. 

The casualties among tourists were not clear as the dead had not been counted or identified. But the numbers could be high given around 300,000 foreign tourists are estimated to be in Nepal for the trekking and climbing as the season opened. 

The quake left large cracks on streets, craters pock-marking the ground, collapsed walls, broken windows and fallen poles along with streets filled with harried survivors. The first aftershock -- magnitude 6.6 -- hit about an hour after the big quake. 

Reports said isolated mountainous areas in Nepal were badly hit. But the extent of the damage was unclear due to inaccessibility and breakdown of communications that hampered relief efforts as well. 

Many remote villages were feared to have been almost wiped out as houses there were either buried by landslide or damaged by shaking near the epicenter. 

"Over large parts of rural Nepal, houses built with mud mortar are down. Glad it's not winter & not yet monsoon,'' Dixit tweeted. "Don't know enough about Bhaktapur. From the Valley rim my brother saw a pall of dust rise over Bhaktapur. I think it has been badly hit.'' 

Rain and thunderstorms were forecasted for Saturday night and Sunday adding to rescue concerns and the woes of homeless survivors. 

A news agency quoted an Indian tourist saying she was having coffee with her friends in Kathmandu when "suddenly the tables started trembling and paintings on the wall fell on the ground''. 

She added they screamed and rushed outside and were collecting bodies and rushing the injured to hospitals. "We are being forced to pile several bodies one above the other to fit them in." 

The tourist said she saw three bodies of monks trapped in debris of a collapsed building near a monastery. "We are trying to pull the bodies out and look for anyone who is trapped." 

"Saddest was to stand on the mound of what used to be the Dharahara landmark tower, and see the citizens, police and army pull the bodies out,'' tweeted Dixit. 

Hospitals in Kathmandu were teeming with wounded with mostly broken limbs and arms. Reports said volunteers formed human chains to clear the way for ambulances to bring in the injured. Dozens of injured had gathered in the parking lot of a hospital, where mattresses were spread on the ground for patients.

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