A major earthquake and dozens of powerful aftershocks struck Nepal Saturday, destroying parts of the capital and killing more than 900 people. The 7.8-magnitude jolt shook Mt. Everest, the highest pooint on Earth, and triggered avalanches that buried mountain climbers in their base camps.
The earthquake hit just before noon, local time. It was relatively close to the surface, centered at a spot 80 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu. The landscape of the ancient capital city was drastically altered by the quake, with historic structures flattened. With buildings and walls collapsing around them, families dashed into the streets in panic.
An iconic 19th century tower, the Dharara tower, in the capital turned into a pile of rubble and Nepalese media reported that many people were trapped there. The tower had a viewing balcony on the eighth floor.
The country’s only international airport was shut down.
A 6.6 magnitude aftershock hit more than an hour after the initial quake.
Numerous people have suffered broken limbs and other serious injuries.
Director of Nepal’s Tourism Board, Aditya Baral, described to VOA the scene in the hours after the earthquake. “People are quite scared, everybody is out now, phone lines are not operating, everybody is outside because there are recurrent aftershocks going on,” he said.
Ten killed in Everest avalanche
An avalanche on Mt. Everest caused by the deadly earthquake has buried a part of the base camp for climbers, killing 10, according to Nepal's tourism ministry.
Television images showed many injured people crowded outside hospitals in Kathmandu trying to get help. Exact assessment of the devastation may take many hours and the number of casualties is likely to rise.
Baral said officials feared that the old area of Kathmandu could have suffered the worst damage. “Old houses in the narrow lanes of the main city core area might have been devastated, there are not proper building structures, designs, they are almost hundred years old, there are small bylanes in between," he said.
Tremors Felt in neighboring countires
The earthquake was also felt in neighboring countries, including India and Bangladesh.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, "We are in the process of finding more information and are working to reach out to those affected, both at home and in Nepal."
He spoke to the Nepalese president to offer help. The Indian air force has been put on standby.
The leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, says disaster management teams are also ready to respond.
He says officials are still trying to assess the situation, and there are reports of three people being killed in the state of Bihar. The eastern Indian state adjoins Nepal.
It is the worst earthquake to have hit Nepal in 80 years.