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Kathmandu In Chaos After Massive Saturday Earthquake


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Rescue efforts in Nepal are intensifying today after more than 2,000 people were killed in a devastating earthquake there. The epicenter struck 40 miles east of Nepal's capital city, Kathmandu. It sent people running in panic for open ground in the city. Powerful aftershocks followed today in Nepal and India and Bangladesh. Offers of assistance and aid have come from many countries, including the United States. NPR's international correspondent, Julie McCarthy, has reached Kathmandu this morning. She joins us on the line now. Julie, let's start with what has been described as a very powerful aftershock today.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, the scene, Rachel, was straight out of a movie. But, you know, this was unmistakably real life for millions of Nepali's who are desperate for a safe roof over their head. Many of these people, who have been too terrified to sleep in their own homes last night, congregated in a series of mini tent-cities around Kathmandu. And one of them was in the vast (unintelligible) field. And when the aftershock struck, I didn't feel it right away. But I heard this roar of people around me rise in sort of sheer panic. And they were shouting "it's coming." And they began running for their lives all over again.

And, you know, just as it struck, I was talking to a woman who was literally erecting a poll over this colored material to fashion a tent. She said there wasn't a whole lot of damage at her house, but she wasn't taking any chances. I was thrown off balance by this thing. It was so powerful, and it made me think about a headline that I had read which was The Himalayas are Angry.

MARTIN: So Julie, as best as you have been able to assess, what is the condition of Kathmandu?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, sporadically you can see scenes where building seem to have just crumbled to the ground in this earthquake which was the worst in 80 years. The central high school in Kathmandu, which was built in 1910, was severely damaged, as was the Army hospital. It sits across from this playing field with these huge bleachers. And that's where many of these people - in that neighborhood in central Kathmandu - exiled themselves.

You know, one orthopedic specialist at the trauma center - Rachel, that's the only trauma center in the entire country - said it was just stretched beyond limits. It had just opened a few months ago, and it really wasn't ready to accommodate all of these people who need surgery - head wounds, amputations, internal injuries. There were lots of broken bones turning up. But this doctor, Dr. Dipendra Pandey, told me this shocking statistic - that 60 percent of the patients in the adjacent BIT Hospital, an old structure, chose to get up and check themselves out and go out into the open air across the field, rather than recuperate in a bed in fear of another attack.

MARTIN: Of course we can only imagine that the devastation outside of the capital city is perhaps even worse. What do you know? What can you tell us about the outlying districts?

MCCARTHY: Well, that is really where the center of all rescue and recovery, the most sort of aggressive efforts are underway. In some cases the only way to reach these very badly hit villages is by helicopter. And then, of course, you have mountaineers coming off of Mount Everest where there has been a series of avalanches. Tents have simply just blown away in all of the fierce weather that's happened up there on the mountain.

MARTIN: That's NPR's international correspondent Julie McCarthy in Kathmandu. We'll have more on the situation on Mount Everest later in the program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.