US military planes to begin Nepal quake relief sorties

AFP , Monday 4 May 2015

Nepal military personnel clear the rubble which were destroyed after last week's earthquake in Bhaktapur, Nepal, May 4, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

US transport aircraft were due to make "an immediate difference" to the aid effort in Nepal Monday, shuttling supplies and rescue teams to remote areas devastated by an earthquake that killed more than 7,300 people.

Nine days after a 7.8-magnitude quake brought death and destruction to the Himalayan nation, a United States Air Force C-17 aircraft and four tilt-rotor Ospreys were set to give relief operations a much-needed shot in the arm.

"They'll have multiple aims. They'll be delivering relief supplies, they might do some rescues, they'll also do assessments," US ambassador to Nepal Peter W. Bodde told reporters after the aircraft arrived in Kathmandu Sunday.

"They're going to make an immediate difference," said US Brigadier General Paul Kennedy.

A Nepalese official said the US aircraft would also airlift victims out of remote areas which suffered some of the worst devastation following the April 25 quake.

"They are also assisting any casualties in mostly the eastern side of Nepal... places worst hit like Sindhupalchowk, Gorkha area," Suraya Prasad Silwal, the home ministry secretary, told AFP.

While the official death toll for Nepal rose to 7,276 on Monday, with some 14,000 injured, authorities warned the final tally would be much higher. More than 100 people were also killed in neighbouring India and China.

Nepal police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam said Monday that 57 foreigners were known to have died while 112 were still missing. Many were in the popular Langtang trekking region north of the capital Kathmandu when the quake struck.

"A few foreigner bodies were taken to Kathmandu from Langtang yesterday. According to villagers there, they say many other foreigners may have been buried and killed in the landslide," the spokesman said.

Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said the death toll was likely to jump once relief teams reached mountain villages flattened in the worst quake to hit the nation in more than 80 years.

"There are still villages where we know that all houses have been destroyed, but have not yet been able to reach," Mahat said.

"The aftershocks have not receded and we expect the final casualty numbers to climb much higher," the minister said, as he appealed for hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign donations to help rebuild the country.

Around two dozen countries have been helping in the relief effort. And while the international teams have been welcomed by the Nepalese authorities, they have also created a logjam at the only international airport, on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

Authorities said on Sunday that the Tribhuvan International Airport has been closed to heavy planes over concern about the condition of the single runway after the quake and a series of strong aftershocks.

But although airport managers issued a notice saying aircraft with a total weight exceeding 196 tonnes would not be allowed to land, it did not prevent the arrival of the giant US planes.

In its latest situation report, the United Nations said "multiple teams" were now active in remote areas of Dading, Dolakha, Gorkha, Nuwakot, Ramechapp and Sindhupalchowk.

But some villagers in Sindhupalchowk, hard hit by the quake and resulting landslides, said they were still waiting for aid to arrive.

"My children are crying for food and shelter but I am unable to manage," Bichari Biswokarma, 52, told AFP in Ghorthali village, more than three hours by road from Kathmandu.

"I heard of some relief funds, packages but no one has reached our village to provide relief. I wish me and my family had died then and there."

Non-governmental organisation Handicap International reported that around 12 percent -- roughly 3,000 -- of the patients treated at four hospitals in the Kathmandu valley had spinal injuries, according to the UN.

The report added that "the number of amputations has increased and the frequency seems to be accelerating".

On Sunday climbing firms called off their Everest spring expeditions, after the quake-triggered avalanche killed 18 on the world's highest peak.

"With ongoing aftershocks and tremors we can't continue expeditions," said two-time Everest summiteer Dawa Steven Sherpa of Kathmandu-based Asian Trekkers.

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