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Nepal rushes aid and rescue operations after strong earthquake kills at least 157

This handout photo provided by Nepal Prime Minister's Office shows an earthquake-affected area in northwestern Nepal on Saturday. Helicopters and ground troops rushed to help people hurt in a strong earthquake that shook northwestern Nepal districts just before midnight Friday.
Nepal Prime Minister's Office via AP
This handout photo provided by Nepal Prime Minister's Office shows an earthquake-affected area in northwestern Nepal on Saturday. Helicopters and ground troops rushed to help people hurt in a strong earthquake that shook northwestern Nepal districts just before midnight Friday.

Updated November 4, 2023 at 8:53 PM ET

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Survivors of a strong earthquake that shook Nepal's northwest in the middle of the night described sudden shaking followed by houses collapsing and burying entire families, as the death toll rose to 157 on Saturday.

Most of those killed were crushed by debris when their houses — usually made by stacking rocks and logs — crumbled under the force of the tremblor midnight Friday, local media reported.

While rescuers were scrambling to rush aid, operations were hampered by the fact that many of the mountainous villages could only be reached by foot. Roads were also blocked by landslides triggered by the earthquake. Soldiers could be seen trying to clear the blocked roads.

The government is trying to get as much aid to the affected areas, Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha said on Saturday. Tents, food and medicine were flown in as thousands became homeless overnight.

"I was fast asleep when all of a sudden it started shaking violently. I tried to run but the whole house collapsed. I tried escaping but half my body got buried in the debris," said Bimal Kumar Karki, one of the first people to be brought to the regional hospital.

A doctor looks after a patient injured in an earthquake, evacuated from his village and brought to a hospital in Nepalgunj, Nepal, on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.
Krishna Adikari / AP
/
AP
A doctor looks after a patient injured in an earthquake, evacuated from his village and brought to a hospital in Nepalgunj, Nepal, on Saturday.

"I screamed, but every one of my neighbors was in the same situation and screaming for help. It took nearly a half-hour to an hour before rescuers found me," he said.

Another injured man recovering in the hospital also described getting buried while he was asleep.

"I was asleep at night and around 10 or 11 at night it started shaking and the house caved. So many houses have collapsed and so many people have been buried," said Tika Ram Rana, who had his head wrapped in a white bandage.

Besides aid, rescuers were focused on finding survivors.

Local television aired footage of troops recovering bodies while others helped dig out and carry the injured.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 and occurred at a depth of 11 miles (18 kilometers). Nepal's National Earthquake Monitoring & Research Center said its epicenter was at Jajarkot, which is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of the capital, Kathmandu.

In Jajarkot district, a mostly agricultural area, at least 105 people were confirmed dead while 52 were killed in the neighboring Rukum district, officials said. Another 184 were injured.

Security officials worked with villagers through the night to pull the dead and injured from fallen houses. The death toll was expected to rise as communications were still cut off in many places, authorities said.

At the regional hospital in the city of Nepalgunj, more than 100 beds were made available and teams of doctors stood by to help the injured.

Apart from rescue helicopters, small government and army planes able to land in the short mountain strips were also used to ferry the wounded to Nepalgunj.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal flew in on a helicopter with a team of doctors. Dahal had led an armed communist revolt in 1996-2006 that began in the districts that were hit by the quake.

The quake, which hit when many people were already asleep in their homes, was also felt in India's capital, New Delhi, more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) away.

Earthquakes are common in mountainous Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015 killed some 9,000 people and damaged about 1 million structures.

Neighboring India offered to help in the rescue efforts.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared on social media that he was deeply saddened by the loss of lives and damage due to the earthquake in Nepal. "India stands in solidarity with the people of Nepal and is ready to extend all possible assistance," he said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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