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Powerful Quake Hits Nepal; Death Toll Rising


An earthquake with an estimated magnitude of a 7.8 shocked Nepal earlier today. More than 1,000 people are dead. Near the capital of Kathmandu, there were reports of buildings collapsed and thousands of people injured. The quake also set off a major avalanche on Mt. Everest. Kunda Dixit is an editor with the Nepali Times, and he joins us on the line. Thank you for being with us.


SIMON: What happened to you this morning? What happened in Kathmandu?

DIXIT: Well, we were on a staff retreat with our editors and reporters up on a mountaintop overlooking Kathmandu Valley. And it felt as if I was propelled two meters up into the air. It was just such a heavy jolt. And when we looked down at the city, it looked like it had been completely destroyed because there was a ball of dust covering the entire valley in which Kathmandu is situated. And we thought the whole city had been destroyed. But as we got down back into the city through the roads, it looked like it wasn't as bad as we initially feared. Many of the residential buildings were damaged, but seem to be intact. On the other hand, the monuments of the world heritage sites in Kathmandu - Bhaktapur and Patan - many of them have been completely destroyed.

SIMON: Mr. Dixit, have you been able to get a handle on how extensive the damage is in Nepal and for that matter the region 'cause there are reports that India's also been affected.

DIXIT: Yeah, it's huge, you know, tremors all over the region. Tibet has been affected in China, and the shocks were felt as far away as Delhi in India. From within Nepal, we haven't yet heard from the remote mountain villages and areas, especially near the epicenter where there seems to have been quite a heavy death toll. But the other tragic thing that we've just heard is that at Mt. Everest base camp, 17 mountaineers have been killed.

SIMON: Does the government of Nepal have resources in place where they can begin to try and help people who need assistance now, rescue people, dig out?

DIXIT: I think the government needs help with the logistics, you know, rescue equipment and dogs and so forth. There isn't enough. I don't think the government would have been prepared for a massive earthquake like this. Although Nepal is in a very vulnerable seismic area, I mean, we should've been prepared for this. But because of the lack of resources, the preparation hasn't been as desirable. But Kathmandu is one of the 10 most vulnerable - on the top, actually, number one among the 10 most vulnerable cities in the world to earthquakes. And predictions had been made that if there was an 8-magnitude in Kathmandu, it would have killed at least 100,000 people. So the fact that we are talking now is also an indication that things were not as bad as expected. I mean, the phones are working, Internet's working. Electricity is off because I think a lot of power lines have been downed. But - and I think as reports come in from the rest of the country, I think the full extent of the devastation outside will be known.

SIMON: Kunda Dixit is an editor at the Nepali Times in Kathmandu. Thanks so much.

DIXIT: Thank you, bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.