|Vera Kratochvil photo|
Helicopters crisscrossed the mountains above a remote district Tuesday near the epicenter of the weekend earthquake in Nepal that killed more than 4,400, ferrying the injured to clinics and taking emergency supplies back to villages cut off by landslides.
Around noon, two helicopters brought in eight women from Ranachour village, two of them clutching babies to their breast, and a third heavily pregnant.
...The little town of Gorkha, the district's administrative and trading center, is being used as a staging post to get rescuers and supplies to those remote communities after Saturday's magnitude-7.8 quake.
...Geoff Pinnock of the U.N.'s World Food Program was leading a convoy of trucks north toward the worst affected areas when the rain began to pound, leaving them stuck.
"This rain has caused a landslide that has blocked my trucks. I can maybe get one truck through and take a risk driving on the dirt, but I think we'll have to hold the materials back to try to get them out tomorrow by helicopter," he said.
Aid workers who had reached the edges of the epicenter described entire villages reduced to rubble.
"In some villages, about 90 percent of the houses have collapsed. They're just flattened," said Rebecca McAteer, an American physician who rushed to the quake zone from the distant Nepal hospital where she works.
...Thomas Meier, an engineer with the International Nepal Fellowship who accompanied McAteer to the devastated villages, noted the disaster's aftermath would stretch long into the future.
"This is a long-term emergency," he said. "This will need major attention for the next five years. People have nothing left."
...At Kathmandu airport, flights arrived with emergency aid and helicopters brought in both foreign trekkers and local villagers from quake-struck areas. Helicopters chartered by trekking companies reached the Langtang area, about 40 miles north of Kathmandu, a popular area for trekking — a key contributor to the country's economy.
...The United Nations says it was releasing $15 million from its central emergency response fund for quake victims. The funds will allow international humanitarian groups to scale up operations and provide shelter, water, medical supplies and logistical services, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Citing government figures, Haq said an estimated 8 million people have been affected by the quake in 39 of Nepal's districts, and more than 1.4 million need food assistance, including 750,000 who live near the epicenter in poor quality housing.
The U.N. humanitarian country team for Nepal is coordinating international relief efforts with the government and a clearer picture of needs should emerge within the next 48 hours, he said. The immediate priority is search and rescue, and removing debris to find survivors still trapped, he said.
...Rescue workers and medical teams from at least a dozen countries were helping police and army troops in Kathmandu and surrounding areas, said Maj. Gen. Binod Basnyat, a Nepal army spokesman. Contributions came from large countries like India and China — but also from Nepal's tiny Himalayan neighbor of Bhutan, which dispatched a medical team.
At the Kathmandu airport, foreign planes from India, the U.S., China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Israel that brought aid and rescue personnel lined up on the crowded tarmac.