Israel sending planes to rescue citizens from Nepal after earthquake

Efforts target 26 Nepalese babies and their Israeli parents.

Rescue workers search for bodies as a stretcher is kept ready after an earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rescue workers search for bodies as a stretcher is kept ready after an earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel plans to send two planes to Nepal on Sunday to rescue Israelis caught in the massive earthquake that rocked the country and offer medical assistance to the Nepalese.
On Saturday night, an IAF plane with a team of experts flew to Nepal to assess the situation.
Based on the information they provide, Israel on Sunday will send one plane with a Magen David Adom team and another with a joint IDF and Foreign Ministry mission, as well as a field hospital.
Those Israelis wanting to leave Nepal will be able to return on those planes. Among those expected to be rescued are 26 babies born to surrogate Nepalese women and their Israeli parents.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a message to his Nepalese counterpart Sushil Koirala.
“Israel feels the pain of the disaster that struck your country. The state of Israel will make available emergency, rescue and medical assistance. The first such team left already tonight. We will help look for those and treat the wounded. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I send our condolences to the families of the victims and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded. The state of Israel and its citizens stands by your side in this moment,” Netanyahu said.
President Reuven Rivlin said, “Our thoughts and hearts go out to the people of Nepal dealing with this awful disaster, and with our loved ones who are in distress. The State of Israel is reaching out to help the search and rescue of the many victims.”
As of press time, some 250 Israelis were unaccounted for. Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the absence of phone service in the aftermath of the quake made it difficult to locate Israelis known to be in the country and cautioned against assuming that those unaccounted for were in danger.
The Foreign Ministry has opened a hotline – 02-5303155 – for those looking for friends and relatives. In addition, a public page was created privately on Facebook where people have posted pictures of Israelis who have yet to be located.
Netanyahu on Saturday held telephone consultations with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Liberman also spoke with the Embassy of Israel in Nepal, whose staff and those Israelis who made it there have been advised to stay outdoors due to ongoing fears of aftershocks.
On Saturday night, about 170 Israelis were camped out in tents in the embassy’s garden – some strumming guitars and others cooking lentils, according to Yehonathan Lebel, deputy chief of mission at the embassy.
“We are all a bit shaken here,” he told The Jerusalem Post over the phone from a car where he was charging his cell phone. “We went out and we started offering the Israelis the option to come to the embassy because there is still a warning about aftershocks,” Lebel continued. “I have no intention of going to my apartment to sleep tonight.”
As soon as the earthquake struck, just before noon, Lebel and his colleagues rushed to the embassy to open a situation room in cooperation with a parallel office in Jerusalem. While the embassy does not have exact numbers of how many Israelis are in the country, Lebel said there are likely several hundred – fewer than last season – as a result of October’s tragic avalanche.
Regarding the number of Israelis potentially missing, Lebel explained that it is still impossible to present a clear figure, due to the fact that during the September-October and March- April hiking seasons many people simply set out trekking without means to contact them. The inability to contact trekkers on long hikes, unfortunately, is normal and, therefore, makes missing persons estimates irrelevant, he added.
Nevertheless, Lebel said the number of Israelis in Nepal has been boosted by the approximately 26 surrogate babies recently born to Israeli parents. Of the babies, about 17 were spending Saturday night with their parents in the embassy garden and remained the first priority of the embassy officials, he said.
“We are working with the ministry in Jerusalem hopefully to bring them back to Israel as soon as possible,” he said.
Most of central Kathmandu and its main tourist area – Thamel – remained relatively intact, although some buildings did collapse, Lebel explained. “When you go a little bit outside [the center], you see more neighborhoods that have been affected.”
Conditions were also relatively stable in Pokhara, a western district of Nepal popular among Israeli trekkers, Lebel continued.
“That being said, there might be Israelis who went on treks and were caught in avalanches, but we don’t have any concrete information,” he said.
“Today was a bit of a mess. This differs greatly from what happened in October because it was a focused, local event,” Lebel added. “It’s much harder to get the army or police on the phone.”
At about 11:15 p.m. local time, Chabad Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz and his wife Chani posted on Facebook about the day’s events, writing that “at the hour of 11:55 a.m., the earth in Kathmandu trembled.”
“For a long time, Nepal was shaken violently and for more long hours there was no quiet,” they wrote. “We are still experiencing aftershocks here. The wounds are still open, the sights here are severe and there are many, many casualties.”
Hundreds of Israelis had gathered at the Chabad House in the morning, and the rabbi and his wife said they are taking part in the effort to locate missing Israelis in Nepal – in Pokhara, in the villages and the mountains. Satellite instruments the Chabad House distributes among mountain climbers have helped them maintain a connection with many of the trekkers out in the mountains, the Lifshitzes wrote.
“Most of our efforts are now concentrated on managing lists of Israelis who have lost contact,” they said. “We also invited our frightened Nepalese neighbors who have lost their homes to come eat with us and families in need of lodging are also welcome into the compound.”
Back at the Israeli Embassy garden, officials provided the campers with a power cord to charge their phones, bags of lentils, pots and water, as they settled in for the night. By Sunday, people should be able to return indoors and commercial airports are expected to open at which time Israeli teams from the New Delhi and Bangkok embassies are also expected to arrive, Lebel said.
“There’s kind of a feeling of a commune a little bit,” Lebel added. “People have gone through a very long and stressful day.