A major earthquake and dozens of powerful aftershocks struck Nepal on Saturday, destroying parts of Kathmandu, the capital city. The quake killed more than 2,500 people.
The 7.8-magnitude quake shook Mt. Everest, the highest mountain on Earth. The resulting avalanches buried mountain climbers in their base camps killing 17 climbers and injuring many others.
At least 34 people were also killed in India. Five deaths were reported from Tibet. Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Nepal-China border reported casualties.
The United States pledged at least $1 million in disaster relief. The U.S. and other nations are also sending disaster response teams to help.
The earthquake hit just before noon, local time. It was relatively close to the surface, centered at a spot 80 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu. Historic structures, including the iconic 19th century tower, the Dharara tower collapsed. Buildings and walls around the capital turned into a pile of rubble. Nepalese media reported that many people were trapped there. The country’s only international airport was shut down.
An hour after the initial quake, a 6.6 magnitude aftershock hit the area. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the strong aftershock was one of at least 18 lesser tremors that followed Saturday's quake. The earthquake was the strongest in 81 years in Nepal. In 1934, an even stronger quake killed more than 10,000 people.
Director of Nepal’s Tourism Board, Aditya Baral, described to VOA the scene in the hours after the earthquake. “People are quite scared, everybody is out now, phone lines are not operating, everybody is outside because there are recurrent aftershocks going on,” he said.
Television images showed many injured people crowded outside hospitals in Kathmandu trying to get help. The number of casualties is likely to rise.
Baral said officials feared that the old area of Kathmandu could have suffered the worst damage. “Old houses in the narrow lanes of the main city core area might have been devastated, there are not proper building structures, designs, they are almost hundred years old, there are small bylanes in between," he said.
Tremors felt in neighboring countires
The earthquake was also felt in neighboring countries, including India and Bangladesh.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, "We are in the process of finding more information and are working to reach out to those affected, both at home and in Nepal."
He spoke to the Nepalese president to offer help. The Indian air force has been put on standby.
The leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, says disaster management teams are also ready to respond.
He says officials are still trying to assess the situation, and there are reports of three people being killed in the state of Bihar. The eastern Indian state adjoins Nepal.