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Economy

Kathmandu -- a city in shock

A man stares at damaged ancient monuments in Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, on April 27. (Photo by Tom Vater)

KATHMANDU, Nepal -- Numerous aftershocks wracked Nepal's capital Kathmandu and surrounding regions into Monday, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the region Saturday afternoon, killing more than 3,700 people and injuring at least 6,500. Many more people have been left homeless, while others are camping in the streets for fear that aftershocks could hit their residences.

     "Saturday is our holiday, so we were all at home, making food, and suddenly the electricity went out and the walls began to shake," said Ajit Rana, a resident of Kathmandu. Rana, 35, was enjoying lunch with his family at home when the devastating earthquake struck Kathmandu on Saturday. "I got my mother and father in the street and we saw cracks at the front of our house. We stayed in the street until the evening. At night we went back inside, but every time there was another aftershock, we ran back into the street," he told Nikkei Asian Review.

     By late Monday morning, Kathmandu had counted about 80 aftershocks, some strong enough to collapse more old houses, according to authorities.

     Rana and his family live close to Pashpatinath, one of the most sacred Hindu temples and a Unesco World Heritage site since 1979. Here too, the devastation of the earthquake was painfully visible. Some of the 500-plus monuments, dating from the 17th century or later, had collapsed completely -- others were severely damaged. Masonry and debris littered the holy site.

     Down by the Bagmati River, which flows through the Kathmandu Valley, families were mourning and burning their dead. Usually, different castes use different ghats, or ceremonial podiums, to cremate their loved ones. But today, the caste rules have been lifted. There are just too many dead to observe rules on the usage of ghats. The mood here, as elsewhere in the city, is both somber and traumatized. Towering above the ghats, the beautiful Bishworup Mandir temple stands badly damaged, its huge onion-shaped dome cracked. Hordes of monkeys hunt for food among the ruins and aggressively accost passersby who carry food. Further afield, the valley's sacred monuments, a major draw for the millions of tourists that visit the country every year, are also badly damaged. Kathmandu's ancient Durbar Square is covered with piles of rubble while the old Newar city of Bhaktapur, another Unesco World Heritage site, was also badly hit by the quake. Many of the casualties cramming the city's overflowing hospitals were pulled from the rubble there over the two days following the quake.

     According to latest government figures, more than 1,400 people have died in the Kathmandu Valley beyond city limits as a result of the quake and its aftershocks. Figures from outside the valley, from Gurkha, the quake's epicenter, remain sketchy. The first injured from beyond the valley rim only started arriving in the capital on Monday.

     It is clear that the entire country is in shock. In all, 4.3 million people have been directly affected by the quake, of a total population of 28 million. Nearly a third of Nepal's 35 districts have sustained significant damage, 11 of them badly hit. The numbers of dead and injured continued to rise steadily through Monday as more information became available from further flung areas that government authorities are yet to reach.

    Handicap International, a nongovernmental organization working in Nepal, has 48 staff in Kathmandu, with more emergency personal arriving daily. Amina Bonzan, the group's head of operations and the main coordinator of the group's emergency response to the quake was on a soccer field when the quake hit.

     "We stayed on the pitch for two hours and then went to see our families before heading back to our office. Our orthopedics and physiotherapy staff immediately went to TUTH [one of six hospitals in the valley designated for arriving casualties]. Due to the aftershocks, many patients were treated out in the open. The main worry for health professionals are the many fractures and open wounds that need to be treated quickly."

     The first injured to arrive in the city's hospitals on Saturday were pulled from debris around the valley. By Sunday evening, the number of survivors delivered to hospitals had gone down to a trickle, but by Monday morning, the first casualties from the Kathmandu Valley were arriving, causing further stress on care facilities overflowing with the injured.

     According to Handicap International, some affected areas were still completely cut off Monday, although some of the injured were being airlifted by helicopter to reach hospitals in Kathmandu.

     A local aid worker who had visited the quake's epicenter reported that some villages were completely flattened, but that the town of Gurkha, while sustaining structural damage, largely remained standing.

     The Nepali government has set up 16 camps around the capital, where thousands now stay in the open. The situation in these temporary shelters, however, is not sustainable.

     Amina Bonzan, a local aid worker, saw little evidence of official management at the camps during her visits to several sites. "There is a lack of toilets. On Dhulikel [one site in the city] only one toilet was constructed. There is a high risk of disease. In the longer term too, we are worried, with thousands homeless and the monsoon coming in the next two months. There's much to do," she said.

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