Quake shakes northwest Nepal, killing at least 128 and injuring dozens. Officials fear toll to rise

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Helicopters and ground troops rushed to help people hurt in a strong earthquake that shook districts in northwestern Nepal just before midnight Friday, killing at least 128 people and injuring dozens more, officials said Saturday.

Authorities said the death toll was expected to rise, noting that communications were cut off with many places.

At the regional hospital in the city of Nepalgunj, more than 100 beds were made available and teams of doctors stood by to help the injured.

“I was fast asleep when all of a sudden it started shaking violently. I tried to run but the whole house collapsed. I tried escaping but half my body got buried in the debris,” said Bimal Kumar Karki, one of the first two people to be brought to the regional hospital.

“I screamed, but every one of my neighbors were in the same situation and screaming for help. It took nearly a half-hour to an hour before rescuers found me,” he said.

The United States Geological Survey said the earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 and occurred at a depth of 11 miles. Nepal’s National Earthquake Monitoring & Research Center said its epicenter was at Jajarkot, which is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.

As day broke Saturday, rescue helicopters flew into the region to help out and security forces on the ground were digging out the injured and dead from the rubble, Nepal police spokesperson Kuber Kadayat said.

Troops were clearing roads and mountain trails that were blocked by landslides triggered by the earthquake. Helicopters flew in medical workers and medicines to the hospitals there.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal also flew in on a helicopter with a team of doctors. Dahal led an armed communist revolt in 1996-2006 that began from the districts that were hit by the quake.

In Jajarkot district, where the quake’s epicenter was, 92 people were confirmed dead and 55 others injured, Kadayat said. The quake killed at least 36 people in neighboring Rukum district, where numerous houses collapsed, and at least 85 injured people were taken to the local hospital, he said.

Security officials worked with villagers all through the night in the darkness to pull the dead and injured from fallen houses.

The quake, which hit when many people were already were asleep in their homes, was felt in India’s capital, New Delhi, more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) away.

Earthquakes are common in mountainous Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015 killed some 9,000 people and damaged about 1 million structures.

Neighboring India offered to help in the rescue efforts.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared on social media that he was deeply saddened by the loss of lives and damage due to the earthquake in Nepal.

“India stands in solidarity with the people of Nepal and is ready to extend all possible assistance,” he said.