JAJARKOT — At least 157 people were killed in an overnight earthquake that struck a remote pocket of Nepal, officials said yesterday, as security forces rushed to assist with rescue efforts.
The force of the 5.6-magnitude tremor jolted households awake and flattened mud houses in communities across isolated western districts of the Himalayan republic late Friday.
“There was a very big noise when the houses came down. It felt like a big explosion,” Shiva Prasad Sharma, 65, told AFP from outside the destroyed remnants of his home in Jajarkot, the district hit worst by the quake.
“I thought we were going to die,” he added. “No one has anything left. There are no houses left to stay in”.
Locals frantically dug through rubble in the dark to pull survivors from the wreckage of collapsed homes and buildings, as others crouched outside for safety.
The quake was felt as far away as India’s capital New Delhi, nearly 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the epicentre.
“The toll from the quake has reached 157 — 105 in Jajarkot and 52 in Rukum,” national police spokesman Kuber Kathayat told AFP.
Another 199 were injured in the quake, he added.
Home ministry spokesman Narayan Prasad Bhattarai said the toll was unlikely to significantly increase.
“We are now in touch with all areas,” he told AFP. “It is possible some bodies might still be found under the rubble.”
Security forces were deployed on foot and in helicopters to assist with search and rescue operations.
“The remoteness of the districts makes it difficult for information to get through,” Karnali Province police spokesman Gopal Chandra Bhattarai told AFP.
“Some roads had been blocked by damage, but we are trying to reach the area through alternate routes.”
Dozens of survivors with fractures and head injuries were raced for treatment to a hospital in Nepalgunj, a small city near the Indian border.
“It came when we were sleeping,” Kamala Oli, a woman cradling her infant child at a hospital treating survivors, told AFP.
“There were three of us in the house. Only two of us lived,” she added, without giving further details.
‘Human and physical damages’
Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal arrived at the site of the quake on Saturday after expressing his “deep sorrow over the human and physical damage”.
“The government is serious about providing relief to victims and treating the injured,” he said.
Neighbouring India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of lives.
“India stands in solidarity with the people of Nepal and is ready to extend all possible assistance,” he added.
Nepal lies on a major geological faultline where the Indian tectonic plate pushes up into the Eurasian plate, forming the Himalayas, and earthquakes are a regular occurrence.
Nearly 9,000 people died and more than 22,000 were injured in 2015 when a 7.8-magnitude quake struck Nepal, destroying more than half a million homes.
It damaged or destroyed nearly 8,000 schools, leaving almost one million children without classrooms.
Hundreds of monuments and royal palaces — including the Kathmandu Valley’s Unesco World Heritage sites — that had drawn visitors from around the world were destroyed in a major blow to tourism.
Six people also died in November last year when a 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck Doti district, near Jajarkot.
Friday’s quake was followed several hours later by an aftershock in the same area with a 4.0 magnitude, the US Geological Survey said. — AFP