Apowerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India yesterday, killing more than 1 341 people and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest.
There were reports of devastation in outlying, isolated mountainous areas after a midday earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, Nepal’s worst in 81 years, centred between the capital, Kathmandu, and Pokhara.
South African mountaineer Lysle Turner (24) was at the base camp on Mount Everest when the quake struck, and helped search for the bodies of fellow climbers who were buried under the snow and ice.
Turner had just returned to base on the Nepalese side of Everest when the quake happened.
“There is chaos in the camp. Many climbers are missing and many are hurt. We are searching for survivors,” he said in a Facebook post.
The death toll among climbers and Sherpas stood at 18 last night.
Katlego Letheo, who is on a mission to become the first black African woman to summit Everest, was on the Tibetan side of Everest when the quake happened.
“We’ve just felt the earthquake, we have no details but it was terrifying,” she posted on Facebook.
An hour later she posted: “We’ve just had another quake, our base camp is right below a dam, we are armed with the necessary in case we need to run away.”
There were at least 1 000 climbers at the base camp, 10 of them South Africans.
All the South Africans are accounted for except for Saray Khumalo, who also wants to become the first black African woman to summit Everest.
Her friends in South Africa said they had not had contact with her by late yesterday.
As fears grew of a humanitarian disaster in the impoverished Himalayan nation of 28 million, an overwhelmed government appealed for aid. India was the first to respond by sending military aircraft with medical equipment and relief teams.
A police official said the death toll in Nepal alone had reached 1 130, more than half of them in the Kathmandu Valley. Another 36 fatalities were reported in northern India, 12 in Chinese Tibet and four in Bangladesh.
Among the Kathmandu landmarks destroyed by the quake was the 60m-high Dharahara Tower, built in 1832 for the queen of Nepal, with a viewing balcony open to visitors for the past 10 years.
A jagged stump was all that was left of the lighthouse-like structure. As bodies were pulled out of the ruins, a policeman said up to 200 people had been trapped inside.
At the main hospital in Kathmandu, volunteers formed human chains to clear the way for ambulances to bring in the injured.
Across the city, rescuers scrabbled through the rubble of destroyed buildings, among them ancient, wooden Hindu temples.
Nepal, sandwiched between India and China, has had its share of natural disasters. Its worst earthquake in 1934 killed more than 8 500 people