More than 130 dead as magnitude 5.7 quake hits Nepal

Gopal Sharma |

A “big earthquake” that struck Nepal has been felt as far away as the Indian capital New Delhi.
A “big earthquake” that struck Nepal has been felt as far away as the Indian capital New Delhi.

At least 137 people have been killed and dozens injured in Nepal when a strong earthquake struck the western area of Jajarkot, as houses in the area collapsed and buildings as far as New Delhi in neighbouring India shook.

Rescue workers in Nepal began digging through the rubble of collapsed houses with their hands on Saturday, searching for survivors after the country’s worst earthquake in eight years.

The quake occurred at 11.47pm on Friday with a magnitude 6.4, Nepal’s National Seismological Centre said. The German Research Centre for Geosciences measured the quake at 5.7, downgrading it from 6.2, while the US Geological Survey pegged it at 5.6.

Officials fear the death toll could rise as first responders had reached the hilly area near the epicentre, some 500km west of the capital Kathmandu, only early on Saturday and began searching for survivors.

“The number of injured could be in the hundreds and the deaths could go up as well,” Jajarkot district official Harish Chandra Sharma said.

Although the quake’s magnitude was not severe, the damage and the death toll would likely be high due to the poor quality of construction in the area and that it struck while people slept, officials said.

Earthquake damage in Nepal
The damage and death toll from the earthquake is expected to be considerable.

Rescue work was expected to be slow as emergency teams must first clear roads blocked by landslides in many places, they said, adding that helicopters and small planes have been asked to be ready to join the effort.

The quake is the deadliest since 2015 when about 9000 people were killed in two earthquakes in the Himalayan country. Whole towns, centuries-old temples and other historic sites were reduced to rubble then, with more than one million houses destroyed.

Officials said 99 people were killed in Jajarkot and 38 in neighbouring Rukum West district, both in Karnali province. The epicentre was in the village of Ramidanda.

Three towns and three villages were known to be affected in Jajarkot, which has a population of 190,000 with villages scattered in remote hills, authorities said.

At least 85 people were injured in Rukum West and 55 in Jajarkot, an official in the prime minister’s office said.

“Many houses have collapsed, many others have developed cracks. Thousands of residents spent the entire night in cold, open grounds because they were too scared to go in into the cracked houses as aftershocks struck,” Sharma said. 

“I have myself not been able to go in.”

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal flew to the area early on Saturday with a 16-member army medical team to oversee search, rescue and relief, his office said.

His office appealed to political parties, social workers and the public to donate funds to help arrange food, water, clothes and tents for the survivors.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was deeply saddened by the loss of lives and damage in Nepal.

“India stands in solidarity with the people of Nepal and is ready to extend all possible assistance. Our thoughts are with the bereaved families and we wish the injured a quick recovery,” he posted on X.