KOLKATA, INDIA —
International rescue crews and relief agencies are beginning to arrive in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, two days after a massive earthquake rattled the country, killing more than 3,600 people and injuring several thousand others.
VOA correspondent Steve Herman is on his way to the capital aboard a flight carrying 70 members of Japan's national search and rescue team. Because of the "congestion" caused by a number of military planes attempting to land at Kathmandu's airport, his plane could not land and was re-routed to Kolkata for re-fueling.
Herman said the flight has been warned to expect a "chaotic situation" at Kathmandu's airport with a control tower that is evacuated during aftershocks and where people who are trying to leave the country have taken to the tarmac.
Oxfam executive Helen Szoke told VOA that the earthquake has given Nepal what she described as a "double hit." She said the country's destroyed infrastructure will not support the tourism industry that Nepal depends on. Szoke said this is something that often occurs in these "humanitarian tragedies."
Disaster response teams from various countries, including the United States, have deployed to the region to help search, rescue and recovery efforts.
"[We are] bringing search capability, digging capability, the ability to get to people who are entombed in the rubble, extricated from the rubble and handed over to qualified medical care," said Chuck Ryan of the Virginia Task Force.
Hospitals in the Kathmandu area have been overwhelmed with the many injured residents.
"There are a lot of patients who have got a devastating injury, including head as well as the amputation of the limbs, whole limb amputations. A lot of devastating injuries including chest, badly chest injuries,” said Dr. Ganesh Gurung, Vice Counselor of National Academy of Medial Science.
Kathmandu residents sought refuge outside overnight in fear of the numerous aftershocks that have followed Saturday's earthquake.
Communications systems from rural areas have been knocked out and landslides have likely cut off many villages. The death and injury tolls are expected to rise when word comes in from those areas.
Saturday's 7.8 magnitude quake struck 80 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu, destroying large parts of the capital's historic center.
Citing Nepali government sources, the United Nations said 35 of the country's 75 districts are affected. Some 30 million people live in Nepal.
VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports that emergency officials in Kathmandu say they are "overwhelmed" with rescue and assistance requests from across the country.
UNICEF says nearly one million children need the agency's assistance.
On a website established by the International Committee of the Red Cross, hundreds of Nepalis and foreigners are reported missing by their loved ones. Far fewer have checked in on the site to report they are alive.
The earthquake rocked the mountainous region minutes before noon local time on Saturday, flattening historic structures of wood and brick in the ancient capital city. At least 180 people were reported dead when the city's iconic Dharahara Tower -- a UNESCO world heritage site -- collapsed.
To the east of Kathmandu, avalanches shook Mt. Everest -- the highest point on earth -- killing at least 18 climbers and burying entire base camps.
By early Sunday, sources reported to VOA deaths and extensive property damage in the Tibet Autonomous Region, hundreds of kilometers north of Kathmandu.
Scores of people were killed in India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and elsewhere along the remote Nepal-Chinese border region report additional casualties.
The United States pledged an immediate $1 million for disaster relief and activated an elite Virginia-based earthquake rescue team. The 56-member unit deployed Sunday along with several USAID officials en route to Nepal.
India’s foreign secretary, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, said three tons of supplies and 40 members of India's National Disaster Response Force were flying to Nepal. The country is also evacuating its nationals by air.
China, Germany, Canada and Israel are among the countries also sending disaster personnel to the area.
Saturday's earthquake was the strongest in 81 years in Nepal, when an even mightier jolt in 1934 killed more than 10,000 people.