04/27/2015, 00.00
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Earthquake in Nepal: more than 3,500 dead. Caritas on frontline in rescue

by Christopher Sharma
The toll is of tens of thousands of displaced and at least 20 thousand completely destroyed buildings. Catholic schools open to provide shelter to survivors. Rains hamper rescue operations. "Incalculable" the economic damage to the tourism sector, the primary source of income for the country.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The  official death toll from the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck two days ago Nepal has exceeded 3,500 confirmed victims. The national Caritas - along with Caritas Australia, India and Catholics from around the world - is engaged in disaster relief and assistance.

The Interior Ministry says that at least 20 thousand buildings were completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of people have lost their homes and are living in the open, still waiting for rescue packages. According to the National Emergency Operation Centre there are more than 6,500wounded. There is no more room in hospitals and doctors are being forced to operate in the open.

"We are facing a national emergency - said Minister Bamdev Gautam - and have requested the international community to help us in any way possible. We thank all Catholics and Christians, who along with many others are providing assistance in this moment of panic”.

According to the latest police reports (updated at 10 am today, local time) at least 1,000 people have lost their lives in Kathmandu alone. A further 111 died in the ancient cities of Bhaktapur and Lalitpur, both Unesco heritage sites.

Fr. Pius, director of Caritas Nepal, explains: "We are working together with other Caritas units to provide as much support as possible. We work closely with various religious groups and many volunteers, engaged in distributing food, water, blankets and medical first aid. "

Amrit Rai, principal of St. Xavier School, said: "Our school is open to provide shelter and meals to those in need."

Even the Protestant Churches are on the frontline with Catholics to help the population. Yesterday a Protestant church collapsed in Kathmandu following the second quake, killing 70 worshipers gathered  inside for Sunday services. Overall five Christian places of worship were damaged and at least 500 people were killed. Thousands are homeless.

Msgr. Paul Simick, apostolic vicar of Nepal, says: "We are praying for the country and we ask everyone to join us in expressing their support." Saturday 25, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal. Pietro Parolin, sent a telegram of condolence to the bishop from Pope Francis.

In addition to the Kathmandu Valley, the regions that have suffered the worst damage are Basantapur, Thamel, Nardevi and Jhochhen. Ancient monuments like the tower of Dharahara and squares (durbar square) of Basantapur and Patan were razed.

Heavy rains have made the rescue operation more difficult and endangered the lives of the survivors. Besides, doctors warn that stocks of vaccines and drugs against diarrhea and measles are becoming scarce.

The earthquake has killed dozens of people even in Chinese and Indian regions bordering Nepal which were affected by the earthquake two days ago.

At the Mount Everest base camp 210 climbers wereisolated. Some helicopters were sent to retrieve them. At least 25 people died swept away by avalanches caused by the earthquake; the wounded are over 60 and dozens are still missing.

According to the Nepalese authorities the economic damage is "incalculable". The country is a global tourist hub not only for the Himalayas, but also for the many monuments and ancient temples. In Bhaktapur, to date Nepal's best preserved ancient city, half of the houses were destroyed and 80 percent of the temples damaged.

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