By Dickson Blessing
Not less than 211 people lost their lives after a powerful magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal’s capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley around noon Saturday, Nepal's Home Ministry reports.
It has also been discovered that 50 people are trapped underneath rubble of the city’s iconic Dharahara Tower, one of Kathmandu’s landmarks built by Nepal’s royal rulers in the 1800s and a UNESCO-recognized historical monument.
The large earthquake shook several other cities across northern Indian and was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan and Lhasa in Tibet, 340 miles east of Kathmandu. The epicenter of the quake was 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu.
A labourer, Pashpa Das ran from the house when the first quake struck but could not escape a collapsing wall that injured his arm.
"It was very scary. The earth was moving … I am waiting for treatment but the (hospital) staff is overwhelmed," he said, gingerly holding his right arm with his left hand. As he spoke dozens of more people showed up with injuries, mostly from falling bricks.
Several other buildings collapsed in the center of the capital, the ancient Old Kathmandu, including centuries-old temples and towers, said resident Prachanda Sual. Witnesses revealed that the earthquake continued for about 10 minutes.
An eyewitness Saul, said he saw people running through the streets in panic. Ambulance sirens blared and government helicopters hovered overhead.
National radio warned people to stay outdoors and maintain calm because more aftershocks were feared. A 6.6-magnitude aftershock hit about an hour after the initial quake.
Dozens of people gathered outside in the parking lot of Kathmandu’s Norvic International Hospital, where thin mattresses had been spread on the ground for patients rushed outside. Some patients were wearing hospital pajamas, while doctors and nurses treated people.
Nepal’s Information Minister Minendra Rijal told India’s NDTV station that there are reports of damage in and around Kathmandu.
A Swedish woman, Jenny Adhikari, who lives in Nepal, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that she was riding a bus in the town of Melamchi when the earth began to move.
"A huge stone crashed only about 20 meters (yards) from the bus," she was quoted as saying. "All the houses around me have tumbled down. I think there are lot of people who have died," she told the newspaper by telephone. Melamchi is about 45 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Kathmandu. Rescue team has been rescuing people who have been trapped in the debris underneath.
The U.S. Geological Survey revised the magnitude from 7.5 to 7.9 and said the quake hit at 11:56 a.m. local time at Lamjung a shallow depth of 7 miles. An earthquake's magnitude increases by 10 times with each increase in the number. A magnitude 7 quake is capable of widespread and heavy damage while an 8 magnitude quake can cause tremendous damage.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a meeting of top government officials to review the damage and disaster preparedness in parts of India that felt strong tremors. The Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Sikkim, which share a border with Nepal, have reported building damage. There have also been reports of damage in the northeastern state of Assam.
Tremors from the quake were felt across northern India, rattling bookcases and light fixtures as far away as Delhi. Electricity was switched off for safety reasons in the state of Bihar, where three deaths were reported in one district, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, India’s minister of skill development, told reporters in New Delhi. Two other deaths were reported in a second nearby district.
Nepal suffered its worst recorded earthquake in 1934, which measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.