A powerful earthquake shook eastern Nepal on Tuesday, shattering the halting recovery from the earthquake that hit the country less than three weeks ago and causing loose hillsides and cracked buildings to give way and collapse.
By late afternoon, Nepal’s National Emergency Operation Center had reported 42 deaths and 1,117 injuries from Tuesday’s earthquake, which the U.S. Geological Survey assigned a preliminary magnitude of 7.3. The death toll from the April 25 earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.8, has reached 8,159 and continues to rise.
Residents and office workers ran screaming into the streets when the temblor struck, shortly after noon, and people described mud and clouds of dust rising as cracked structures fell.
Prakash Banjara, an engineering student, was on an aid mission with 15 other students, delivering rice to remote villages in Sindhupalchowk district, when “the earth started shaking so violently.”
“The mountains before my eyes started tumbling down in massive landslides,” Banjara said by telephone.
The latest major earthquake came just as ordinary life was returning to Nepal, its streets once again alive with vegetable markets and dumpling stands. Jasmine Avgerakis, who is stationed in Sindhupalchowk with the charity Mercy Corps, said she has watched people overcome the trauma of the first earthquake, roll up their sleeves and set about cleaning up.
“They were just starting to go home and feel comfortable there,” she said.
The epicenter of Tuesday’s earthquake was about 50 miles east of Kathmandu, near the border with China, whose towns and villages were also devastated by the April 25 quake. The largest cluster of deaths, 19, was registered in the district of Dolakha, a mountainous and sparsely populated region where the elevation reaches almost 24,000 feet. Seventy-seven people in Dolakha died in the April 25 earthquake, officials said.
Ranveig Tveitnes, the deputy leader of the Norwegian Red Cross team in the hard-hit city of Chautara, said many of the houses in town that had survived the first earthquake collapsed entirely Tuesday, and the road through town was once again blocked by rubble.
Two people were brought dead to the mobile Red Cross hospital there Tuesday, and 40 injured people had been brought in by mid-afternoon, with more arriving as evening approached.
Search and rescue teams began digging through the rubble looking for survivors.
U.S. military helicopter missing
A U.S. military helicopter delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nepal is missing, U.S. defense officials said Tuesday, but so far there have been no indications that the aircraft crashed.
U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren said an Indian helicopter in the air nearby at the time heard radio chatter from the Marine aircraft about a possible fuel problem. He said the UH-1 Huey, carrying tarps and rice, had dropped off supplies in one location and was en route to a second site when contact was lost. He said officials are hopeful that the aircraft is simply missing because there has been no smoke or other signs of a crash.
Navy Capt. Chris Sims said the Huey was conducting disaster relief operations near Charikot, Nepal, a village hit hard by Tuesday’s magnitude 7.3 quake.
Marines in V-22 Osprey aircraft searched near the last known location of the helicopter but found nothing. After darkess fell, members of the Nepalese Army conducted the search on foot.
Because of the rugged mountainous terrain, the Marines could have landed in a low area but not be able to get a beacon or radio signal out, Warren said.
The aircraft is part of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif.