More than a thousand people have been injured and many dozens killed in Nepal after the poor mountain nation was hit by a second strong earthquake, just weeks after the disaster that killed more than 8,000 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes.
The US Geological Survey said the second quake had a magnitude of 7.3 and struck 42 miles (68km) west of the town of Namche Bazaar, close to Mount Everest. It was followed closely by at least six strong aftershocks. Shockwaves were felt as far away as the Indian capital, Delhi, and Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.
The district of Sindhupalchok, one of the worst-hit areas in last month’s earthquake, suffered significant damage. Krishna Gyawali, the most senior local bureaucrat, said eight people had been killed in the district and more than 100 injured.
Nepal’s home ministry said at least 42 people had been killed and 1,117 injured in the latest earthquake.
The number of deaths and injuries was expected to rise, Gyawali said, “because dozens of houses collapsed”.
Witnesses reported widespread damage in Sindhupalchok with roads cut by high stones and often cracked. Security officials were working to open the highways to the district last night.
Nineteen deaths were reported in remote Dolakha province closer to the highest mountains in the world and the border with Tibet, Kamal Singh Bam, the national police spokesman said.
“Dolakha appears the worst hit,” he told the Guardian. The police chief of the district said dozens more were injured, many seriously.
Where the quakes hit
With dozens of helicopters from India, China and the US based in Nepal – a stark contrast to last month – relief operations were launched immediately. Nepalese and Indian army helicopters had reached Dolakha within hours of the earthquake and begun ferrying wounded from the district headquarters to Kathmandu.
“One rescue helicopter had gone and they saw landslides. They did a casualty evacuation from one village,” Sitanshu Kar, spokesman for the Indian ministry of defence said.
There were also concerns over a large glacial lake in northern Dolakha district called Tso Rolpa which is held back by a fragile natural dam and threatens the lives of thousands of villagers.
The epicentre was much closer to Everest base camp than that of the 25 April quake. The earlier quake triggered a massive avalanche that killed 18 climbers and support staff waiting to ascend the world’s tallest peak. Mountaineering companies have called off their spring expeditions.
Two people were killed in India, according to state officials – one in Bihar state and one in Uttar Pradesh. Residents in the Indian town of Siliguri, near the border with Nepal, said chunks of concrete fell off one or two buildings. The earth also shook strongly across the Nepalese border in Tibet’s Jilong and Zhangmu regions.
Tuesday’s quake came from a depth of 11.5 miles, deeper than the 9.3 miles of the quake on 25 April. Deeper earthquakes tend to cause less damage at the surface. The 7.3 magnitude means it was about a fifth as strong as April’s 7.8 quake.
In Lamosangu in Sindhupalchok witnesses described people “screaming and weeping as if the world was ending”.
Krishna Lama and his five-year-old daughter ran from their camp. He said: “I could hardly hold my child it was shaking so much. My parents died in landslides last year. Now it seems it is our turn.”
In Gorkha district, the epicentre of the earthquake last month, there were reports of limited damage. Jen Hardy, of Catholic Relief Services, who are distributing aid to remote villages in the district, said she saw two houses that had been badly damaged in the previous quake fall down.
“We are on a ridge and so got shaken pretty badly. It was quite strong and there was a lot of crying. People are very shaky. The mobile network is down and everyone is trying to reach loved ones. No one is staying anywhere near a building,” Hardy said.
All over the areas affected by the two quakes people were returning to the makeshift camps in parks, parade grounds and even roundabouts that had been set up last month but dismantled in recent days as confidence returned.
The latest disaster comes amid a humanitarian emergency in Nepal, with aid yet to reach many remote parts of the Himalayan nation after roads were wrecked by landslides. At least half a million Nepalese are already without homes and living in makeshift camps or on the ruins of their houses.
The United Nations last week said it had received just $22m (£14m) of the $415m it had appealed for as it called for aid contributions to be “dramatically ramped up”. There have been rows over the aid that has already been sent, with western officials accusing the Nepalese government of trying to centralise its distribution, hampering efforts to reach those most in need.
The search for survivors of the first quake who were still trapped in remote areas such as the Langtang valley was continuing as late as last week, with whole villages in that part of the country – which is popular with trekkers – wiped out in last month’s quake and aftershocks.
More than three-quarters of the buildings in Kathmandu have already been judged uninhabitable or unsafe without major repairs, according to a survey carried out at the beginning of May.