Large Earthquake Strikes Nepal

#1
A large magnitude 7.8 earthquake has struck Nepal. The epicenter was to the west of Kathmandu, the capital, between Kathmandu and Pokhara, a town popular with trekkers near Mt. Annapurna. The USGS says that it was an unusually shallow earthquake, which isn't good, since shallower earthquakes feel stronger at ground level.

Kathmandu is one of the most historic cities in the world, with many centuries-old buildings standing, giving it a strikingly weird skyline. (I believe that Kathmandu is a UNESCO World Heritage site.) Reports are that some of these heritage buildings have collapsed, including a landmark tower, popular with Western tourists who climb to an observation deck on its eighth story. It's just a huge pile of bricks now, and nobody has any idea how many people were in it when it collapsed.
But people in the city say that many of the old buildings are still standing, which surprises them. This isn't the first large earthquake that Kathmandu has experienced, so the older buildings are rugged survivors of natural selection. A journalist drove from the city to a satellite city a few kilometers away and saw scattered collapsed buildings, but most buildings were still standing. But other reports say that some of the capital's narrow medieval-style streets are completely devastated, impassable piles of rubble. Residents are trying to dig down to buried people with their bare hands. Huge crowds of people are standing around in the streets since everyone ran outside fearing their buildings would collapse on them.

Hospitals are overwhelmed and are doing triage, only accepting some patients and not others. Reporters spoke to a man with a broken arm who was turned away. Hospitals are moving patients out into the open air, due to structural damage to hospital buildings. And the injured flood in, mostly people injured by falling bricks. The confirmed death toll is over 900 and climbing. That's mostly Kathmandu Valley, there probably isn't any word yet from remote villages. The final toll will be much higher.

The Kathmandu international airport is closed to commercial traffic but reports are that Indian Air Force transport aircraft have been landing there carrying relief supplies. The US has pledged help. The British have doubtless done the same, and their embassy in Nepal says that it is trying to contact Britons in Kathmandu.

Reports from Mount Everest say that a big avalanche on the south side of the mountain has severed the route to the top. (The 'icefall' area collapsed.) No word on whether any climbers are trapped near the top or were swept away. A big expedition on the mountain was feared missing, but has radioed in and they are ok. The Everest base-camp was partly destroyed by another avalanche. Everyone is trying to contract everyone else and take stock of who is missing. The Sherpas are understandably worried about their families.

But Everest is well to the east of Kathmandu and the epicenter was to the west, much closer to Annapurna. It's scary to think of what might have happened there. There doesn't seem to be any word, which isn't good.

There are reports of several deaths to the north in Tibet, and at least one to the south in India. (A house collapsed atop a girl in a rural village near the Nepal border.) Reporters in New Delhi say that they distinctly felt the earthquake and were alarmed by it. (New Delhi is maybe 350 miles from Pokhara. That's like LA to San Francisco.)
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#2
So devastating and so much pain and suffering. (:
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#3
A 6.8 aftershock was reported today. (That would be a significant earthquake in its own right.) Confirmed deaths have reached the vicinity of 2,500. There are many thousands of injured, some in critical condition. Lots of crush-injuries.

Many countries are sending rescue teams and relief supplies. A 50 man German search and rescue team left from Frankfurt, complete with rescue dogs. A similar size Chinese team has been dispatched. The French have sent a team as well. Israel has sent 260 military personnel with everything they need to set up a complete field hospital. I don't know what, if anything, the US is doing.

India has launched a major military effort that they call 'Operation Maitri', under the command of a major-general. Yesterday some 200 search and rescue workers arrived by air, along with tents and food. After they were unloaded, the Indian Air Force transport planes took Indian nationals aboard who wanted to fly back to India. (The NY Times reports seeing long lines of Indians at Kathmandu International Airport waiting to get on those flights.) Sunday five Indian helicopters arrived (with three more to arrive later in the day) and are being deployed west of Kathmandu near the epicenter. Convoys of Indian army trucks are trying to get in by land. Reports are that the Indians are flying in field hospitals and are flying photo reconnaissance missions over the epicenter area.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news...41152.aspx

India has suffered significant earthquake damage at home. Something like 60 deaths are being reported, from villages and towns hear the Nepalese border. Two deaths have also been reported in Bangladesh.

The US Embassy in Kathmandu has set up a tent camp at the American Club, a major social hangout for Western expats from many countries in Nepal. The Australian foreign ministry says that some 500 Australians had voluntarily registered their presence in Nepal, and about 200 of these have been contacted and are ok. The remaining 300 are still missing. But there's no word of any Australian deaths, so the hope is that these people are just temporarily out of contact.

The Nepalese are in shock. The whole population of Kathmandu is living outdoors, fearing that aftershocks may bring damaged buildings down on them. Police on motorbikes with bullhorns have been telling people not to go indoors. People are making tents out of fabric and bamboo. There isn't any electricity and shops are closed. Officials are devoting their meagre resources to getting vital services like hospitals up and running.

Apparently there's lots of volunteerism. People are rescuing their neighbors. I guess that in a place like Nepal, people get used to not relying on the government for very much. The Nepalese government has designated schools as relief centers. These buildings can be checked for structural integrity and food and bottled water can be distributed there. Maybe cots will be set up where displaced people can sleep.

There's concern about towns and villages to the west, near the epicenter. Word is that whole villages have ceased to exist, some crushed by landslides as Himalayan mountainsides simply collapsed. There's lots of effort going into trying to clear roads between Kathmandu and places like Pokhara. For now, the only access is helicopters. (Which are probably in short supply, even given the Indian AF influx.) Lots of effort is going into clearing roads.

The Mount Everest base camp had about 1,000 people at the time of the quake. 18 died in the avalanche, including a Google executive. About 60 were injured. The remainder have mostly left. Reports are that some climbers are still stranded on the mountain, after their way down slid away. They have radioed in and say that they are ok. They will have to switch routes going down. I expect that they are conferring with their support people about that right now.
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#4
I remember having a bad feeling about the mountains around there because they are relatively young, and I wondered how stable the earth's crust was.

I hope the USA gets a lot of aid over there soon.
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#5
elte Wrote:I remember having a bad feeling about the mountains around there because they are relatively young, and I wondered how stable the earth's crust was.

There's a reason why the Himalayas are the highest mountains on Earth. Apparently India used to be a continent of its own, that plate tectonics drove into southern Asia. The mountains are the crumpled fenders from the accident. I don't know if tectonic forces are continuing to force India north and the mountains upwards. This earthquake was reportedly generated by a thrust fault.

Quote:I hope the USA gets a lot of aid over there soon.

In my opinion, the US government response is to little, too late. Yesterday they were proudly announcing that they had pledged $1 million. Today, they must have realized how ridiculous that was, so they are saying $10 million. I guess that they figure that Nepal isn't in our part of the world.

There is an interesting report that 26 US special forces 'green berets' were in Nepal for mountain warfare exercises, supported by a single C-130. They are staying to help. A USAF C-17 will be arriving tomorrow with an urban search and rescue team from LA.

But it's India that is leading up the international aid response. They have gone into major national crisis mode and have laid on a huge military operation to assist Nepal. I assume that it isn't all humanitarian, they want to increase their influence in Nepal and head off Chinese encroachment there.

They are flying so many cargo aircraft into Kathmandu International, that the airport is at capacity and has become clogged. Four Indian planes had to return to India without landing today, because the airport just couldn't accept them. They will try again tonight.

The big Indian effort seems to be shifting from flying in aid by air, to moving in heavy equipment by road. The Nepalese are complaining that they don't have sufficient heavy equipment to move rubble in search of trapped people and to clear roads cut by landslides. So India is on that. They also want to send in busses to get their own nationals out. (A many thousands strong mix of tourists and religious pilgrims, along with some family visits, I guess.)

Good news is that it appears that much of the earthquake energy went east from the epicenter, along the fault-line. Destruction isn't as bad to the west of the epicenter. There's a shake-map in this Wall Street Journal story.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/nepal-rescue...1430113791

Some reporters have reached the epicenter in Gorkha. Four Indian helicopters are said to be operating from there. Some reports say that all of the town's buildings are wrecked, while others say that the newer concrete buildings came through relatively ok. (Maybe that means that they are wrecked by cracks, but didn't collapse on the people inside them.)

Residents of Gorkha report that little outside aid has reached them. But the government is trying. There's a NY Times report from the road leading from Kathmandu to Gorkha, saying that it's a traffic jam of large trucks full of supplies, waiting while heavy equipment tries to clear the road.

Word in Gorkha about smaller towns up in the higher mountains isn't encouraging. Roads don't exist up there in the best of times, and communications are by foot or animals. Towns experience devastating landslides. People trekked out of one town, reporting it was 75% wiped out. The helicopters launched and tried to reach it, but had to turn back due to dangerous cloudy flying conditions in the mountainous terrain. So some Nepalese soldiers and police set out to trek up to the town on foot. Now officials in the Gorkha district HQ say they can't raise them by radio. The Indians are flying in satellite phones in hopes of improving communications.

Speaking of Gorkha, the Indian army is contacting retired Gurkhas in Nepal, Nepalese who have been enlisting in the Indian army since the 1800's, to see if they want to return to Indian service in Operation Maitri, to help their countrymen.

The Chinese have set up a field hospital in a mountain resort area east of Kathmandu. Not to be outdone, the Indians have several field hospitals and are now setting up a number of smaller first aid centers staffed by paramedics and maybe three doctors each. The first is near the airport. I guess that these stitch up cuts and splint broken arms, but refer patients to the field hospitals for major surgeries.

The UN World Food Program is flying in food, starting with the energy bars that they usually start out disasters with. They are easily transportable and don't require cooking or refrigeration. Save the Children is distributing infant kits, because they say that newborns are most vulnerable in conditions like these.

The death toll has topped 4,000. The surviving Hindu temples are conducting cremations as fast as they can. Kathmandu is still mostly without electricity and people are living on the streets. And it's been raining. The Indians are flying in army tents.

Word from Mount Everest is that there are 100-150 climbers trapped above the avalanche that wiped out their return route. They are descending to Camp 1, where helicopters are flying them out, a few at a time. They have to leave all of their equipment behind. My belief is that helicopters sometimes struggle at higher altitudes, so that this might involve some epic flying at the edge of the machines' performance envelope.
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#6
I always think about the many that have to die like over a period of days being trapped underneath rubble without being killed. Bleeding and lack of water would finish them off maybe in 3 days if they're lucky, kidneys shutting down and inducing sleep. But what a horrible way to die, waiting for help to come that just doesn't get there in time.
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#7
Another large earthquake has hit eastern Nepal. The US Geological Survey is calling it the largest aftershock from the quake of two weeks ago. The quake two weeks ago was magnitude 7.8. This one was magnitude 7.3. That's a large earthquake in its own right, larger than the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, the largest I've ever felt. A 7.3 quake can cause lots of damage. It was centered east of Kathmandu, about halfway to Mt. Everest. There are reports of casulties, but fewer than last time. Reports of people running out of buildings in Kathmandu again.

A basic news story here:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32700981

Lots of technical information from the US Geological Survey here:

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/e...al_summary

In an unrelated bit of news, a US Marine Corps Huey helicopter from Camp Pendleton that was doing relief work in Nepal has gone missing. Hopefully it didn't run into a mountainside or something.
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