LONDON (AP) — As world leaders and global charities tried to grasp the scope of an earthquake that devastated Nepal, they offered condolences for the more than 1,400 people killed in four countries and readied emergency aid for the survivors.
Mountaineering groups struggled to check on climbers, and Nepalese abroad did their best to reach families in the stricken area.
With Internet and cellphone communications spotty, and many roads closed due to damage, the outside world did not yet have a clear picture of what was most needed following the magnitude 7.8 quake Saturday.
But it was clear that help was needed – and fast.
“We know the damage is extensive and that access into rural areas will be very, very difficult for everybody,” said Ben Pickering, Save the Children’s humanitarian adviser in Britain. “Children will be affected in many ways. Physical injuries. Separated from families.”
Charities assembled disaster teams but the most convenient pathway into Nepal – one of the world’s poorest countries – was not available because the international airport in Kathmandu was shut down.
Doctors Without Borders said four teams would leave Sunday morning for Nepal from Bihar state in India, close to the Nepal border. The organization also is sending in 3,000 kits including medical supplies.
AmeriCares sent a team from India and was preparing shipments of medical aid and relief supplies. “We are prepared to help any way that we can,” said AmeriCares President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis.
Handicap International, which had a presence in Nepal with 47 workers before the earthquake, was already busy with the emergency response.
“One of our projects there, because it’s earthquake-prone, is to help hospital staffs, physical therapists and others to anticipate the kind of injury we tend to see after a quake,” said spokeswoman Mica Bevington. “And we’re sharing our resources, like all our wheelchairs are going to two hospitals in need.”
Habitat for Humanity International, which has worked in Nepal for many years, said it would immediately begin distributing 20,000 emergency shelter kits as it evaluates the scope of the damage and determines construction plans and the need for additional kits.
French aid group Doctors of the World (Medecins du monde) said it has mobilized its workers in Nepal to help quake victims. It is sending more staffers and medical aid to the region immediately.
Mercy Corps, based in the United States, was checking on the safety of the large team it already had on the ground in Nepal and assessing conditions.
“As we better understand the needs on the ground, we will respond as appropriately,” said CEO Neal Keny-Guyer.
Countries around the globe pledged aid while Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims and those working to save them.
“His Holiness commends the souls of the victims to the loving mercy of the Almighty and he offers encouragement to the civil authorities and emergency personnel as they continue their rescue efforts and assistance to those touched by this tragedy,” Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in a statement.
A 62-member Chinese search and rescue team, plus six dogs, was expected to arrive in Kathmandu midday Sunday by chartered plane, the country’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the China Earthquake Administration.
The European Union was considering “some budget support” to Nepal, according to a joint statement by the EU’s foreign policy chief, development chief and humanitarian chief. It did not provide details or amounts.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Twitter that Britain “will do all we can to help those caught up in it.” Germany, Norway, Italy, France, Monaco and Mexico also pledged help. Mexico suffered an 8.1-magnitude earthquake that killed an estimated 9,500 people in the nation’s capital in 1985.
The U.S. Embassy in Nepal announced $1 million in initial aid and the U.S. Agency for International Development activated an urban search and rescue team. The U.S. State Department also set up an email address and phone number for anyone who knows of U.S. citizens needing assistance in Nepal.
“We are working closely with the government of Nepal to provide assistance and support,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. “To the people in Nepal and the region affected by this tragedy we send our heartfelt sympathies. The United States stands with you during this difficult time.”
In a neighborhood in New York where many Nepalese people live, Dawa Sherpa said he learned his parents, siblings and other relatives had survived in their village, Helambu.
“My family’s all right but my village is really devastated,” he said. “All the houses, they’re all gone. The temple, the Buddhist temple, the temple is gone.”
Hari Acharya, owner of the Delhi Heights restaurant, said relatives including his mother, wife and children were safe but some friends had been killed.
“It’s a really bad thing,” he said. “It’s a legitimate disaster.”
He said the building where several relatives lived had collapsed and the family was “sitting outside.”
In New York, Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, said the disaster requires “global assistance.”
“We fear the deaths and casualty numbers could go up for days,” she said. “We from the temple society will be collecting funds and forwarding them – as soon when we know where to send them.”
The quake triggered a landslide on Mount Everest, and the Madison Mountaineering company in Seattle, Washington, said it had not heard from some staff on the slopes.
“We don’t have everyone accounted for,” said Madison co-founder Kurt Hunter. “We have our fingers crossed.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross has set up a website that allows the public to search through missing persons and/or register someone they have lost contact with. CLICK HERE to access that database.
Associated Press writers Anita Snow in Mexico, Angela Charlton in Paris, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Karl Ritter in Rome and Jim Fitzgerald in New York and AP radio correspondent Julie Walker in New York contributed to this story.