KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Nepal has told aid agencies it did not need more foreign rescue teams to come and help in the search for earthquake survivors, because its government and military could cope, the national head of the United Nations Development Programme told Reuters.
“The search and rescue will go on but the message they wanted us to relay was they have enough to deal with it,” Jamie McGoldrick said. The message was conveyed by the Nepali government and military to aid agencies at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
If foreign rescue and medical teams are “in the air or just landed, they can come and help”, McGoldrick said. “But if they are on a runway in their home country waiting to take off, then we are telling them not to come.”
The government was not immediately available to comment.
The fate of thousands of people remains unclear, although four days after a 7.9 magnitude quake wrecked buildings and killed at least 4,600 people, hopes were fading of finding people alive in the rubble. More than 9,200 were injured.
Some remote villages believed destroyed by the earthquake had still not been reached, and on Tuesday a local official said up to 250 people were missing after a fresh avalanche.
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said on Tuesday that the death toll could reach 10,000.
“After the first 72 hours the survival rate drops dramatically and we are on day four,” said Wojtek Wilk of the Polish Center for International Aid, a NGO which has six medical staff and 81 firefighters in Nepal.
“On the fifth day it’s next to zero.”
Rescue teams from around the world were still arriving in the capital Kathmandu on Tuesday.
Others have not been able to reach the Himalayan nation as quickly as they had hoped, because its one international airport has been functioning intermittently amid aftershocks.
Search and rescue teams “that have not yet arrived in Kathmandu are advised to stand down,” said an advisory on a UN website for emergency coordination. “There is no … need for teams to arrive.”
It also said foreign medical teams that had not yet arrived in Kathmandu should “stand by”.
With the search now shifting to more remote areas, there is no need for international teams with heavy lifting gear because many homes are made from mud or wood, McGoldrick said.
A French rescue team was trying to save a male survivor from a residential tower in northern Kathmandu on Tuesday evening.
And at Basundhara, also in the north of the capital, rescue teams from the Netherlands, France, Turkey and India, and the Nepal Army, all turned up to search for three survivors thought buried beneath the debris.
The 18-strong Dutch Urban Search and Rescue team included paramedics, dog handlers and firemen. After a second sniffer dog failed to pick up the scent of any survivor, the search was called off.
“Now there is no hope here,” Huijbrechts Marcel from the Dutch team told Reuters.
“When we arrived here yesterday there was absolutely no coordination. There was only a reception where we could register and take permission to set up our base – nothing else,” he said.
In the ruined back alleys of Bhaktapur, a badly hit temple city to the southeast of Kathmandu, the Dutch team encountered a team from Blue Sky Rescue, a group of volunteers from various cities in China.
Neither group had received information about how to divide up their search in the city. The Chinese had drones, and the Dutch had dogs, but their joint efforts found no survivors.
The Dutch team sought another destination to search, but it said its Nepal Army liaison officer did not know of any possible sites in the Kathmandu Valley.
“Why are the army not coordinating?” asked Niraj Thapa, a Basundhara resident, and the Dutch team’s chief source of on-the-ground information for the day.
(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in Kathmandu and Danish Siddiqui and Andrew MacAskill in New Delhi; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Douglas Busvine)
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