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      'The Ground You Think Is Solid Suddenly Gives Way': At Least 4,000 Dead in Nepal Earthquake Tragedy

      'The Ground You Think Is Solid Suddenly Gives Way': At Least 4,000 Dead in Nepal Earthquake Tragedy 'The Ground You Think Is Solid Suddenly Gives Way': At Least 4,000 Dead in Nepal Earthquake Tragedy 'The Ground You Think Is Solid Suddenly Gives Way': At Least 4,000 Dead in Nepal Earthquake Tragedy
      Photo via Armed Police Force, Nepal

      Asia & Pacific

      'The Ground You Think Is Solid Suddenly Gives Way': At Least 4,000 Dead in Nepal Earthquake Tragedy

      By Sally Hayden

      "Suddenly it went dark and then a huge jolt. You couldn't stand, it was shaking so wildly." Rupa Joshi, communications manager for UNICEF in Nepal, described the moment that Saturday's devastating earthquake hit.

      Joshi lives in a neighborhood built on a former lake. The 7.8 magnitude quake made everything "turn to mud," she told VICE News. "I just held on to the doorframe waiting for it to go away but it started increasing."

      The death toll has now reached 4,010, according to officials. This figure includes citizens from China, India, the US, Estonia, and Japan. Nepal's National Emergency Operation Center announced on Monday afternoon that at least 7,119 were injured, while nearly 2,000 homes have been completely destroyed, along with 14 government buildings.

      Search-and-rescue teams from India, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Israel, and Poland have arrived and begun helping with operations on the ground.

      Photo via Armed Police Force, Nepal

      Hard-to-reach rural mountainous regions may be the worst affected. One village inhabitant reported that almost every home in his 1,000-house village had been decimated, according to the BBC. The man was evacuated by helicopter to Pokhara, 124 miles from Kathmandu.

      Reconstruction could cost $5 billion - an estimated 20 percent of the GDP of Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world with an average annual income of around $700 per person.

      Lila Mani Poudyal, the government's chief secretary and the rescue coordinator has issued a call for help from the international community, telling reporters that Nepal urgently needed "tents, dry goods, blankets, mattresses, and 80 different medicines." He said Nepalese resources were incredibly limited. "We don't have the helicopters that we need or the expertise to rescue the people trapped."

      Doctors and people with medical expertise were particularly in demand, especially orthopedic doctors, nerve specialists, anesthetists, surgeons, and paramedics, said Poudyal.

      Robbie McIntyre, a communications officer with UK-based NGO Save the Children, told VICE News that an estimated 2 million children had been affected by the earthquake.

      "For us a huge concern will be children who have lost their parents, " he said, "so we will be working to identify any unaccompanied children and ensure they have a safe place to stay, and are referred for the necessary support."

      He added: "The most immediate needs in Nepal are related to health, shelter, food, and water, while people also need basic items like soap and blankets. In addition, with the chaos caused by the earthquake, child protection will be a huge concern."

      After the initial earthquake, Joshi said that "there were lots of aftershocks, some pretty strong. There were so many aftershocks that you would think there was just a constant dizzy feeling."

      Right now shelter is the most pressing need, according to Joshi. "Even if a house was only damaged you would not want to go into it with so many aftershocks," she said. "Everybody is living outdoors." Vast tent cities have sprung up across Kathmandu.

      Families seek temporary shelter at a vacant field next to Nepal's army headquarters in Kathmandu. Photo by Thomas Nybo/UNICEF

      People are living in constant fear of another earthquake, Joshi said. "The ground you think is solid suddenly gives way and you are left in the lurch. That will take some time to heal. Even now if anything just drops or I make a sudden noise my colleagues in the office are shaken up, [they think] it's the next one."

      Medical aid for the injured was the next top priority, said Joshi. The water supply needs to be tested to ensure that drinking water is still safe, sanitation facilities are needed in the areas that people have congregated, and temporary learning spaces are needed for children.

      Nepal is in the middle of a long and drawn-out effort to craft a constitution following a lengthy civil war. Last month, pro-democracy protesters clashed with police in the country's capital.

      "We are in the middle of a constitution-building process, so we were hoping that the constitution could be done and we could get on with our development work," Joshi said. "This has set back everything because all the infrastructure is gone."

      The natural disaster came as political rallying, protests and posturing continued. "Maybe it will be a binding factor bringing everyone together, who knows?" Joshi continued. "But that is what we were in the middle of."

      Despite the prevalent poverty, Nepal is famous for its rich culture - a culture that visibly crumbled on Saturday.

      "A lot of our temples and a lot of our heritage sites have gone," Joshi said. "What we grew up knowing had been standing for a couple of centuries, thinking was our heritage, all the UNESCO heritage sites, they're all turned to rubble." 

      Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

      Topics: nepal, asia & pacific, environment, kathmandu, earthquake

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