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International rescuers, aid dispatched to Nepal quake

International rescuers, aid dispatched to Nepal quake
HONG KONG: International aid groups and governments intensified efforts to get rescuers and supplies into earthquake-hit Nepal on Sunday, but severed communications and landslides in the Himalayan nation posed formidable challenges to the relief effort.

As the death toll neared 2,000, the US together with several European and Asian nations sent emergency crews to reinforce those scrambling to find survivors in the devastated capital Kathmandu and in rural areas cut off by blocked roads and patchy phone networks.

"Roads have been damaged or blocked by landslides and communication lines are down, preventing us from reaching local Red Cross branches to get accurate information," said Jagan Chapagain, Asia Pacific director of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The IFRC said it was extremely concerned about the fate of villages near the epicentre of the quake, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Kathmandu.

"We anticipate that there will be considerable destruction and loss of life," Chapagain added.

Other aid organisations also struggled to assess needs across the nation, and spoke of the fearsome effects of the quake.

"We witnessed terrible scenes of destruction - hospitals were evacuated with patients being treated on the ground outside, homes and buildings demolished and some roads cracked wide open," said Eleanor Trinchera, Caritas Australia Program Coordinator for Nepal.
A lack of electricity would soon be complicated by a scarcity of water, aid groups said, with medical supplies also dwindling.

Survivors slept in the open in Kathmandu overnight, braving the cold for fear of being crushed by the teetering ruins of buildings.

Hundreds of structures, including office blocks and a landmark nine-storey tower, crashed to the ground at around midday on Saturday when the 7.8-magnitude quake struck.

Meanwhile snowfalls on Saturday thwarted efforts to airlift survivors from an avalanche that hit part of Everest base camp, killing at least 17 people, although choppers started landing on Sunday.

As Nepal awoke to the reality of the devastation, a US disaster response team was already en route and an initial $1 million in aid to address immediate needs had been authorised, the US Agency for International Development said.

Australia and New Zealand together pledged more than $4.5 million, and said they were working to locate hundreds of their citizens believed to be in Nepal.

India dispatched two military transport planes as it emerged that at least 47 people had died there from the effects of the massive quake.

There were similar offers from around the region, including Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Taiwan.

China said a 62-member search and rescue team with sniffer dogs was on the ground in Kathmandu, and added that a medical team would be mobilised and work started on an emergency aid plan, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Seventeen people were killed by the earthquake in Tibet, according to Chinese state media.

A Singaporean search and rescue team was also heading for the Himalayan nation, while members of its armed forces would also support the relief efforts with deployment of "suitable resources", the city-state's government said.

Japan confirmed its own 70-strong emergency services team would leave for Nepal on Sunday, and the European Union said its humanitarian experts were heading to the crisis areas.

"The full extent of the casualties and damage is still unknown but reports indicate they will likely be high, both in terms of loss of life, injuries and damage to cultural heritage," an EU statement said.

Germany, Britain and Spain also pledged support and assistance, with Norway promising to provide 30 million krone ($3.9 million, 3.5 million euros) in humanitarian aid.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the earthquake was "shocking news" and vowed his country, which swiftly sent a team of humanitarian experts to Nepal, "will do all we can to help those caught up in it".

Israel said it was sending an aid delegation to Nepal, including a team of paramedics and doctors.

Charity Christian Aid launched an appeal for funds and said it was working with partner agencies to reach the worst hit areas.

"It's clear from what has emerged so far that there is an urgent need for emergency shelters, food and clean drinking water, warm clothing blankets and hygiene kits," said the group's regional emergency manager Ram Kishan in a statement.

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