Cut off from all sides, Nepal villagers at quake epicentre face slow death

GURKHA/BARPAK: Villagers are dying a slow death in many parts of Barpak and Gurkha regions — the quake’s epicenter — which are completely cut off. Quake-induced landslides have wiped out long stretches of roads and most villages have no space to land choppers.

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In these villages, there is no rescue, only relief effort. Indian Air Force choppers hover over the villages, dropping food, tents and blankets as rescue work is impossible without helipads or roads.

On Wednesday an IAF chopper made sorties over a village in Barpak— its 100-odd houses completely flattened by the quake. Several attempts were made to land as villagers looked up in desperate expectation, but the chopper simply could not land. It finally just dropped supplies and flew off.

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“We don’t even know how many are dead in the village or how many are severely injured. Some may still be trapped under the rubble but, perhaps, alive. But we are in no position to save them. They’ll die waiting for help. It’s one of the saddest feelings when a rescue worker can’t go through,” Nepal Army Leader Naresh Khadka, who is guiding the IAF rescue operation in Barpak, said.

With 8 million Nepalese affected by the earthquake, including 1.4 million needing immediate food assistance, UN World Food Program official Geoff Pinnock was quoted by AP as saying the relief effort would stretch on for months. “It doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

Nepalese police said Wednesday the death toll from the quake had reached 5,045. Another 19 were killed on the slopes of Mount Everest, while China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported 25 dead in Tibet. The disaster also injured more than 10,000, police said, and rendered thousands more homeless.

Even as public anger mounts versus the government’s failure to come to the aid of many of those affected, there are some heartening tales of courage in the face of daunting odds. Rajbahadur Thapa’s 57-year-old mother Purshani suffered severe injuries to her leg and hips after her house crashed on her. When no help reached in three days and her condition kept worsening, Thapa carried her on his shoulders, trekking from his village Kharunche in Sindhupalchowk through the hills for four hours to reach the nearest town from where she was evacuated.

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“There is still no help in my village. There is no way to reach there,” Thapa said.

Even though the number of reported casualties from these areas has been lesser than Kathmandu or Sindhupalchowk, the destruction in the Barpak-Gurkha region has been massive. An aerial survey showed village after village flattened. Some were so badly hit that they looked like excavated remains of some obliterated civilization with no signs of life.

IAF choppers are now dropping teams at accessible points from where they will trek to inaccessible villages and bring the injured to evacuation sites. A team dropped at Gurkha has already begun work. “We are now trying to reach some of these worst-affected villages on foot and see if a helipad can be created by clearing demolished houses,” Wing Commander Abhijit Bali said.

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