(The Pontiac Tribune) — A massive magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit just 50 miles northwest of Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, on Saturday, was the worst to hit the region in 81 years.
At least 4,000 people are confirmed dead, thousands injured, and many still missing, as dozens of aftershocks continue to rock the area, the largest so far with a magnitude of 6.7. The quake, which lasted nearly two minutes, triggered avalanches on Mt Everest, killing at least 18 and stranding many, as helicopter rescues lifted injured and survivors to safety.
International efforts are underway to send desperately needed aid, as well as search and rescue units since the whereabouts of countless people, are unknown. The quake was strong enough to affect India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and China’s region of Tibet, resulting in fatalities there as well.
Electricity, water, and communications are down in many areas in the country of 28 million people, and with so many affected, it’s been difficult to estimate the scale of devastation.
“We are facing a tremendous crisis here and it is hard to even assess what the death toll and the extent of damage could be” said government official, Mohan Krishna Sapkota.
Paul Earle, a seismologist with the US Geological Survey, expressed similar concerns, saying “This is a very large earthquake in a significantly populated region with infrastructure that has been damaged in past earthquakes”.
Attempts to aid survivors and extract victims from the rubble in Kathmandu were further complicated by large numbers of terrified residents taking to the streets after their homes were destroyed or for the fear of structural collapse from the aftershocks that continue to affect the region.
Vandalism and looting have also been on the rise since little if any, policing is possible with resources stretched to maximum capacity. Surprisingly, many poorly constructed modern buildings remained essentially intact though the historic portions of the city are mostly in ruins.
There is fear that entire villages closer to the epicenter near Lamjung in the Ghorka district, may be devastated as they largely consist of precarious accommodations lodged into mountainsides, and access, already limited under normal conditions, is virtually impossible due to numerous landslides.
Those concerns are definitely warranted, as a resident of Manglung near the epicenter, Vim Tamang, said “Our village has been almost wiped out. Most of our houses are either buried by landslide or damaged by shaking”. Search efforts on foot and by helicopter have begun.
The situation on Mt Everest is similarly grim, with at least 18 dead, and many trapped, injured or missing, and aftershocks continue to cause avalanches, still further hindering rescue capabilities. The entire peak has been affected, including base camp which sits in a valley surrounded by other mountains, leaving it particularly vulnerable with a quake lasting as long as this one did.
As CNN reports, Jon Reiter, a mountaineer at that base camp when the quake hit, described the situation this way:
“An earthquake that long set off avalanches all the way around us. And they came down — they were large, they were massive avalanches”.
There wasn’t time to avoid the enormous onslaught of snow and rock, and many were taken by surprise. Helicopters have begun airlifting badly injured parties to safety. Among the dead was an executive from Google, who was part of the Jagged Globe expedition team.
The Nepalese government, which has been in turmoil for over a decade, is now completely overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster.
After Kathmandu’s airport reopened Sunday, aid from China, India, and Pakistan was the first to arrive, including tents, first aid, doctors and surgeons, a mobile hospital, ground penetrating radar, urban search and rescue units, as well as trained search dogs.
Aid from other countries around the world is now pouring in. Government employees were asked to abandon their regular posts and assist in relief efforts, and 16 stations began setup across the country on Sunday as distribution points for food, water, and medicine.
With Nepal’s busy tourism industry, a significant number of foreigners also comprise the list of missing, for which both Facebook and Google set up person locating services, where people in the affected areas can now ‘check in’ to establish their safety and lessen the burden on communications infrastructure.
Frantic family members have taken to social media and other online resources asking for any information on the whereabouts and status of the missing. Many in Nepal have used the internet for reporting the conditions of specific areas, in an attempt to clarify where aid and rescue are needed most urgently.
This quake is considered a ‘thrust’ type, which occurs when pressure building up along two tectonic plates is released in a shockwave, in this case with the energy and force equivalent to 20 thermonuclear weapons, according to Dr Lung S. Chan, a geophysicist at the University of Hong Kong in a explanation to the Wall Street Journal.
Movement of the ‘India plate’ which houses the Indian subcontinent, continues north at an average rate of about 1.8″ per year, where it meets the Eurasian plate and forms the Himalayas, whose height increases by about one centimeter a year. When the pressure becomes too great, the plates slip and move forward, in this case nearly 6 1/2 feet.
However, this area is also complicated by remains of a prehistoric lake far beneath the surface, now in the form of black clay, which is prone to take on characteristics of quicksand during tremors, swallowing surface structures. Saturday’s quake was considered geologically ‘shallow’, just 9.3 miles underground, meaning its effects had a far greater impact on the surface.
Quakes like this occur at average intervals of 75 years, though earthquake prediction beyond averages remains impossible.
The last quake of this magnitude occurred in 1934 when a magnitude 8.1 tremor centered in the eastern part of the country killed 10,000 people. Though they weren’t sure precisely when, scientists largely saw the potential for disaster coming and had warned about it for some time, in part because Nepal’s infrastructure hasn’t largely been constructed to withstand the scale of seismic activity for which the region is prone.
Scientists believe the worst of the aftershocks are over, but don’t dismiss the possibility of a stronger tremor.
(Feat. Image: AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)