New Delhi: Stepping up relief and rescue operations in quake-hit Nepal, India on Sunday deployed over two dozen aircraft and choppers along with nearly 1000 trained personnel and said the situation in the Himalayan nation was “very, very serious”.
A slew of steps have been taken for speedy evacuation of stranded tourists including goodwill visas to foreigners and mobilising of buses and ambulances to bring them by road. Over 1,000 people have been flown from there since yesterday.
Addressing a press conference here, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said that situation may worsen in Nepal as heavy to very heavy rainfall is predicted over the next two days, which will hamper the salvage operations.
An inter-ministerial team, headed by a top Home Ministry official, will leave for Nepal soon to coordinate the rescue and relief efforts.
“I underline that rapid rescue and relief is our primary mission in Nepal. Situation in Nepal is very, very serious,” said Jaishankar, who was flanked by Home Secretary L C Goyal, Defence Secretary R K Mathur, chief of National Disaster Management Authority R K Jain and India Meteorological Department head L S Rathore.
The Home Secretary said so far 62 people lost their lives in India due to the earthquake and aftershocks while 259 others were injured.
Giving details of the Indian rescued from the quake-ravaged country, Jaishankar said 546 people were brought back yesterday while 504 have already arrived today and 130 more are expected to land late tonight.
He said while the rescue team were trying to evacuate nationals of other countries, Indians were the obvious priority.
India has so far deployed 13 military aircraft, three civilian aircraft of Air India and Jet Airways, six Mi-17 helicopters, two Advanced Light Helicopters while two more Mi-17 choppers are kept in standby.
Ten tonnes of blankets, 50 tonnes of water, 22 tonnes of food items and two tonnes of medicines have been flown to Kathmandu.
Three army field hospitals and engineering task force and medical units of civilian doctors have been sent to Nepal.
Jaishankar said today’s aftershocks have hampered the rescue and relief operations as Kathmandu airport was shut for long hours. However, the airport was later reopened. Director General of IMD L S Rathore said that there is possibility of heavy to very heavy rains in the next 48 hours and this is expected to cause some hindrance in the rescue and relief operations.
“There is also a possibility of landslides and avalanches reoccurring. The aftershocks are expected to continue for may be weeks, months and may be some years. This is because the resettlement of underlying plates takes time and this is unpredictable,” he said.
Rathore said as many as 46 aftershocks have occurred after yesterday’s major earthquake that was epicentred in Nepal, 75 km north-west of Kathmandu.
“All of these aftershocks were above 4 in the richter scale while one was measured at 6.9, another was 6.6 while several between 5 to 6 on the richter scale,” he said.
Jaishankar said that government has deployed 35 buses to evacuate stranded Indians in Nepal via two routes — Sunauli and Raxaul — along the Indo-Nepal border.
The Home Secretary said: “We are undertaking a big evacuation through the road route”.
The Defence Secretary said that there was extensive damage to houses near the epicentre as was witnessed by a military chopper which conducted an aerial survey of the area.
However, he said, the number of casualties in the epicentre may not be too high because of the typical construction material used in the rural belt.
The Home Secretary said of the 62 casualties in India, a maximum of 46 people died in Bihar while 13 in Uttar Pradesh, two in West Bengal and one in Rajasthan.
Among the injured, 156 belonged to Bihar, 43 belonged to UP, 52 in West Bengal and eight in Sikkim. The officials appealed to the “thousands of stranded people” to be patient and assured that India would accommodate as many people as it can, including foreign nationals.
Goyal also said the Indo-Nepal border guarding force SSB has been instructed to facilitate the movement of rescue buses and vehicle along the border even as it has been asked to set up medical camps to provide aid to Indians returning home.
The Foreign Secretary said they have also asked the Indian embassy in Kathmandu to make arrangement for buses and drivers, something which they said was not readily available.
“Traffic is moving very slowly because of the pileon of the rubbles post the quake,” he said.
Jaishankar said locals have been appreciating India’s “very, very quick response” to Nepal immediately after the disaster struck.
He said big challenge remains access to quake-hit areas beyond Kathmandu but it was not immediately possible due to bad weather.
The Defence Secretary said Indian teams were assessing the requirements of the Nepalese hospitals so that medical replenishments could be provided to them.
Jaishankar said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is personally monitoring the rescue and relief operations, has been continuously briefed about the developments.