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UPDATE: Devastating Nepal Earthquake Kills 2,200+, Triggers Avalanche

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UPDATE

Nepal urged countries to send aid to help it cope with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that killed more than 1,300 people, a toll officials said would rise as the desperate search for survivors continued into the early hours of Sunday.

As fears of a humanitarian disaster grew, thousands of people braved freezing temperatures to sleep on pavements, in parks or in fields, too afraid to return to homes damaged by a 7.9 magnitude quake which struck at midday on Saturday.

"We have launched a massive rescue and rehabilitation action plan and lots needs to be done," said Information and Broadcasting Minister Minendra Rijal.

"Our country is in a moment of crisis and we will require tremendous support and aid," he told Indian television.

The home ministry said the death toll had reached 1,382. A police spokesman said more than 630 of them were killed in Kathmandu Valley and at least 300 more in the capital.

Foreign climbers and their Nepalese guides around Mount Everest were caught by the tremors and a huge avalanche. Some took to social media to send desperate messages for assistance, warning that otherwise more people would die.

Hospitals across the impoverished nation of 28 million people struggled to cope with the dead and injured from Nepal's worst quake in 81 years, and a lack of equipment meant rescuers could look no deeper than surface rubble for signs of life.

Ramesh Pokharel, a staff member of the Bhaktapur Hospital on the outskirts of Kathmandu, said that around 50 bodies were lying in a field outside.

Doctors were treating patients in a makeshift tent next to the main building, and staff were too busy to count or register names of the casualties.

"It's chaos here," Pokharel said.

PEOPLE STILL TRAPPED

The earthquake, centered 50 miles (80 km) east of the second city, Pokhara, was all the more destructive for being shallow.

Areas of Kathmandu were reduced to rubble, and rescue operations had still not begun in some remote areas.

Among the capital's landmarks destroyed in the earthquake was the 60-metre-high (100-foot) Dharahara Tower, built in 1832 for the queen of Nepal, with a viewing balcony that had been open to visitors for the last 10 years.

A jagged stump 10 meters high was all that was left of the lighthouse-like structure. As bodies were pulled from the ruins, a policeman said up to 200 people had been trapped inside.

Across the city, rescuers scrabbled through the rubble of destroyed buildings, among them ancient, wooden Hindu temples.

"I can see three bodies of monks trapped in the debris of a collapsed building near a monastery," Indian tourist Devyani Pant told Reuters. "We are trying to pull the bodies out and look for anyone who is trapped."

Neighboring India, where 44 people were reported killed in the quake and its aftershocks, was first to respond to calls for help, sending military aircraft with medical equipment and relief teams.

The Indian embassy in Nepal said 285 members of the National Disaster Response Force had been sent to assist the Nepalese army in the rescue effort.

Aid groups readied staff to go to Nepal with supplies to provide clean water, sanitation and emergency food, while the United States, Britain and Pakistan were among countries providing search-and-rescue experts.

TRAGEDY IN THE MOUNTAINS

An Indian army mountaineering team found 18 bodies on Mount Everest, where an avalanche unleashed by the earthquake swept through base camp. More than 1,000 climbers had gathered there at the start of the climbing season.

A tourism official, Mohan Krishna Sapkota, said it was "hard to even assess what the death toll and the extent of damage" around Everest could be.

"The trekkers are scattered all around the base camp and some had even trekked further up. It is almost impossible to get in touch with anyone."

Around 300,000 foreign tourists were estimated to be in various parts of Nepal for the spring trekking and climbing season in the Himalayas, and officials were overwhelmed by calls from concerned friends and relatives.

Romanian climber Alex Gavan tweeted that there had been a "huge earthquake then huge avalanche" at Everest base camp, forcing him to run for his life.

In a later tweet he made a desperate appeal for a helicopter to fly in and evacuate climbers who had been hurt: "Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap."

Nepal, sandwiched between India and China, has had its share of natural disasters. Its worst earthquake in 1934 killed more than 8,500 people.

ORIGINAL REPORT

A powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest.

There were reports of devastation in outlying, isolated mountainous areas after the quake struck with a magnitude of 7.9, the worst in 81 years, with its epicenter 50 miles east of Nepal's second largest city, Pokhara.

A collapse in communications hampered relief efforts, raising fears of a humanitarian disaster across the impoverished Himalayan nation of 28 million people.

A home ministry official told Reuters said the death toll had reached 758 in Nepal. A further 34 fatalities were reported in northern India and one in Bangladesh. The quake was shallow in depth, intensifying its destructive force.

Indian tourist Devyani Pant was in a Kathmandu coffee shop with friends when "suddenly the tables started trembling and paintings on the wall fell on the ground.

"I screamed and rushed outside," she told Reuters by telephone from the capital, where at least 181 people died.

"We are now collecting bodies and rushing the injured to the ambulance. We are being forced to pile several bodies one above the other to fit them in."

A tourism official said at least eight people were killed when an avalanche unleashed by the earthquake swept through the Everest Base Camp for climbers of the world's highest mountain.

Choti Sherpa, who works at the Everest Summiteers Association, was unable to call her family and colleagues on the mountain. "Everyone is trying to contact each other, but we can’t," she said. "We are all very worried."

TOURIST TRAIL

Around 300,000 foreign tourists were estimated to be in Nepal for the spring trekking and climbing season, and officials were overwhelmed by calls from concerned friends and relatives.

"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 Mohan Krishna Sapkota, a second tourism official.

"The trekkers are scattered all around the base camp and some had even trekked further up. It is almost impossible to get in touch with anyone."

A landlocked nation sandwiched between India and China, popular with adventure tourists, Nepal has had its share of natural disasters. Its worst earthquake in 1934 killed more than 8,500 people.

Political instability weakens the ability of the government to handle a crisis - Nepal has still not upgraded its weather forecasting despite being surprised by unseasonal blizzards last autumn that killed 32 in the Annapurna massif.

In 2001, Nepal burst into global headlines when then-Crown Prince Dipendra gunned down 10 members of his family, including his father, King Birendra Shah, before killing A Maoist rebellion subsequently asserted power, transformed the kingdom into a republican democracy and abolished the monarchy altogether in 2008. Nepal, however, has yet to agree on a new constitution.

TOWER TOPPLED

The revered Dharara Tower collapsed in Kathmandu when the quake erupted shortly before noon local time. A policeman said that up to 200 people had been trapped in the structure.

Built in 1832 for the queen of Nepal, the tower was a 100-foot-high landmark that had been open to visitors for the last 10 years and had a viewing balcony.

A jagged stump just 10 meters high was all that was left of the lighthouse-like structure. Several bodies were extracted from the ruins.

At the main hospital in Kathmandu, people with broken limbs and arms were being rushed in for treatment. Crowds and volunteers formed human chains to clear the way for ambulances to bring in the injured.

Kathmandu is home to ancient, wooden Hindu temples. Photographs posted online showed buildings reduced to rubble, with large cracks along roads and residents sitting in the street holding babies.

"I can see three bodies of monks trapped in a debris of a collapsed building near a monastery," said Pant, the Indian tourist. "We are trying to pull the bodies out and look for anyone who is trapped."

EVEREST AVALANCHE

The Everest avalanches, first reported by climbers, raised fears for those on the world's loftiest peak a year after a massive snowslide caused the deadliest incident yet there.

Romanian climber Alex Gavan said on Twitter that there had been a "huge avalanche" and "many, many" people were up on the mountain. "Running for life from my tent," Gavan said. "Everest base camp huge earthquake then huge avalanche."

Another climber, Daniel Mazur, said Everest base camp had been "severely damaged" and his team was trapped.

"Please pray for everyone," he said on his Twitter page.

An avalanche in April 2014 just above the base camp on Mount Everest killed 16 Nepali guides.

The tremors on Saturday were felt as far away as New Delhi and other northern cities in India, with reports that they had lasted up to a minute.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake, initially measured at 7.7 but upgraded to 7.9 magnitude, struck 50 miles east of Pokhara. It was only 2 km deep.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired an emergency meeting and dispatched a military air transporter with three tonnes of supplies and a 40-member disaster response team to Nepal. Three more planes were to follow later on Saturday, carrying a mobile hospital and further relief teams.

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