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Help slow to come in Nepal’s widening tragedy

Survivor Rishi Khanal, 27, is carried on a stretcher after being freed from the ruins of a three-story hotel in the Gangabu area of Kathmandu, Nepal, Tuesday. (Associated Press)
Survivor Rishi Khanal, 27, is carried on a stretcher after being freed from the ruins of a three-story hotel in the Gangabu area of Kathmandu, Nepal, Tuesday. (Associated Press)
Katy Daigle Associated Press

PASLANG, Nepal – There is almost nothing left of this village but enormous piles of broken red bricks and heaps of mud and dust.

One of those piles was once Bhoj Kumar Thapa’s home, where his pregnant wife pushed their 5-year-old daughter to safety in a last, desperate act before it collapsed and killed her during Saturday’s earthquake.

Thapa and others in Paslang were still waiting Tuesday for the government to deliver food, tents – any kind of aid – to this poor mountain village near the epicenter of the quake that killed more than 4,700 people, injured over 8,000 and left tens of thousands homeless.

“When I got home, there was nothing,” said Thapa, an army soldier. “Everything was broken. My wife – she was dead.”

He was put on leave from his army unit to mourn, one of the few Nepalese soldiers not deployed in the country’s massive rescue and recovery operation. But instead of sadness, there is anger.

“Only the other villagers who have also lost their homes are helping me. But we get nothing from the government,” Thapa said.

An official came, took some pictures and left – without delivering anything to the village of about 300 people northwest of the capital of Kathmandu, he said.

Paslang is only 1.8 miles up the mountain from the town of Gorkha, the district headquarters and staging area for rescue and aid operations. But the villagers, who have no idea when they might get help, are still sleeping together in the mud and sharing whatever scraps of food they can pull from beneath their ruined buildings. Three people in the hamlet have died.

In Kathmandu, thousands of people were lining up at bus stations this morning hoping to reach their hometowns in rural areas. Some have had little news of family and loved ones since Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 quake caused widespread destruction and disrupted communications. Others are scared of staying close to the epicenter, northwest of Kathmandu.

Officials and foreign aid workers who have rushed to Nepal are struggling against stormy weather, poor roads and a shortage of manpower and funds to get assistance to the needy. On Tuesday, the district managed to coordinate 26 helicopter trips to remote villages to evacuate 30 injured people before a major downpour halted the effort.

“We need 15,000 plastic tarps alone. We cannot buy that number,” said Mohan Pokhran, a district disaster management committee member. Only 50 volunteer army and police officers are distributing food and aid for thousands in the immediate vicinity, he said.

More tragedy struck Tuesday: A mudslide and avalanche struck near the village of Ghodatabela and 250 people were feared missing, district official Gautam Rimal said. Heavy snow had been falling, and the ground may have been loosened by the quake.

But there also was also some heartening news: French rescuers freed a man from the ruins of a three-story Kathmandu hotel, near the main bus station. The man, identified as Rishi Khanal, was conscious and taken to a hospital; no other information about him was released.

Across central Nepal, including the capital of Kathmandu, hundreds of thousands of people remained living in the open without clean water or sanitation more than three days after the quake. It rained heavily in the city Tuesday, forcing people to find shelter wherever they could.

While many across Nepal are opting to sleep outdoors for fear of the constant aftershocks, those in Paslang have no choice because almost no buildings are left standing.

The U.N. said the quake affected 8.1 million people – more than a fourth of Nepal’s population of 27.8 million – and that 1.4 million needed food assistance.

The challenge is to reach them in rugged isolated villages. Trucks carrying food were on their way to affected districts outside the hard-hit and densely populated Kathmandu Valley.

The World Food Program said distribution of rice would begin today in Gorkha district. Nepal’s death toll rose to 4,768.

Thomas Meier, an engineer with the International Nepal Fellowship, called the disaster “a long-term emergency.”

“This will need major attention for the next five years,” he said. “People have nothing left.”

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