Israel opened a field hospital in Kathmandu on Wednesday to help treat the thousands of Nepalese injured in Saturday’s massive earthquake, and its rescue teams continued to help comb the rubble for survivors.
The rescue teams are operating under the command of the Nepalese military, which is directing them to various sites.
“We have been to six significant destruction sites around [Kathmandu] and in the city itself. Unfortunately, we have not found survivors,” said Col. Yoram Laredo, head of the Home Front Command’s battalions and in charge of Israel’s mercy mission to Nepal.
Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala paid a visit to the field hospital to thank Israel for its assistance.
“There are more than 200 medical nurses and other logistic staff here,” Ambassador to Nepal Yaron Mayer said.
The IDF said the hospital has the capacity to treat 200 patients a day. It has an independent infrastructure and includes 50 tons of medical equipment. It has a range of wards and 125 personnel who include trained and experienced medical staff, the IDF added.
For the second day in a row, Israeli rescuers continued to use helicopters rented from India and China to retrieve dozens of Israeli trekkers who were stranded in remote areas after the earthquake damaged all roads and paths leading to safety. The Nepalese army also made some of its helicopters available. But they had yet to reach dozens of other trekkers, and planned to fly out to them on Thursday. In one case, in the region of Mount Everest, the trekkers were hiking out to meet them part-way, Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said.
Bringing them back to safety is a top priority, said Yehonathan Lebel, deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Kathmandu.
“It is very cold up there, people don’t have food and they are getting really desperate.”
Israel is also searching for Or Asraf, 22, the last of its citizens still unaccounted for. He is believed to have been in the area of the Frozen Lakes in Langtang, which sustained damage. The Foreign Ministry has made contact with the other 249 Israelis who initially had been unaccounted for.
A number of Israelis were able to make contact with their families via satellite phones while they waited for help.
The death toll from Saturday’s quake is at least 5,000. It could reach 10,000.
Bad weather and aftershocks have hampered rescue efforts, particularly in the Langtang, Mount Everest, Annapurna and Pokhara areas, where the Israeli trekkers were located.
Resources have been scarce since little aid has reached those areas; in some instances, violence broke out between international trekkers, including Israelis, and the local population, which also has needed assistance.
One Israeli rescuer described the situation in Langtang as “tense,” and said there had been fights between villagers and stranded trekkers over scarce food.
“Villagers think the tourists are taking too much of the food,” said Amit Rubin, who is based at Kathmandu airport with a team from Magnus International Search & Rescue. Teams from the Harrel and Phoenix insurance companies also assisted in flying Israelis to safety.
Trekker Lily Milkovich described the moment the quake struck.
“We were sitting in our tent when suddenly a boulder of ice fell on it,” she said by telephone after being flown out to a pick-up point for bringing evacuees by bus back to Kathmandu.
“After a few minutes, we found that some of our friends had been buried under the snow. Once we felt we were safe to help them, we started pulling them out,” she said.
Milkovich added that there had been fights to get on the helicopters, although tensions eased when it became clear there would be sufficient flights to bring everyone to safety.
US President Barack Obama spoke with Nepali Prime Minister Koirala on Wednesday about American efforts to help the nation recover from the earthquake, the White House said.
Obama told Koirala the US would do all it could to help the people of Nepal, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
The United Nations estimates that eight million people have been affected, with at least two million in need of tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.
“The timing of the intervention remains of the essence,” the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Nepal, Jamie McGoldrick, said in a statement. “Although I am heartened and encouraged by the progress of the response to date, efforts need to be maintained and stepped up to ensure vital assistance reaches all the affected, especially those in the remote areas.”
McGoldrick’s appeal came as anger mounted over delays in delivering local aid four days after the disaster.
In Kathmandu, about 200 people protested outside parliament, asking for more buses to go to their villages and hasten the distribution of aid. In Sangachowk village, about three hours by road from the capital, scores of angry villagers blocked the road with tires to stop aid trucks.
Government officials admit that aid has been slow to come. Broken bridges and roads blocked by landslides have made it difficult to reach rural areas closer to the epicenter of the earthquake.
Helicopters have been unable to land in some remote mountainous areas, such as the Gorkha district.
It was one of the areas worst hit by the quake, with entire hillsides having collapsed, burying villages and making access almost impossible.
The UN estimates that 70,000 homes were destroyed and another 530,000 damaged across 39 of Nepal’s 75 districts, forcing many to sleep out in the open or under makeshift tents in cold and damp conditions.
“We’re talking about families who now don’t have so much as a tarpaulin to sleep beneath,” Mattias Bryneson, Plan International’s Nepal country director, said in a statement.
“Tarpaulins and temporary shelters can save lives. If people, especially children, are exposed to bad weather all day and night, you’ll be damp, wet, dirty and freezing cold – and the spread of illness will exacerbate this humanitarian crisis.”
The UN said $415 million was needed to provide 500,000 people with tents or tarpaulins, 1.4 million people with food, and 4.2 million with safe drinking water and toilets.
Even before the appeal was launched, foreign countries and aid agencies had offered assistance – from search and rescue teams, sniffer dogs and equipment for heavy lifting, to blankets, dry food rations, mobile hospitals and financial aid.
As of Wednesday, the UN Financial Tracking System showed that $48.25m. had been pledged by foreign governments and international aid agencies since the quake struck. Only $22.2m had been delivered.
“As the monsoon season approaches, this is likely to become an added logistical challenge in providing humanitarian assistance,” the UN’s McGoldrick said.
“Funding is needed immediately to continue the relief operations.”