As you all must have heard by now, a massive earthquake, 7.9 on the Richter scale, occurred in the Kathmandu and Everest region of Nepal on Saturday morning. Thousands are reported dead, many more are injured, countless others are missing, and the death and injury tolls are expected to rise.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — The death toll from the magnitude-7.9 earthquake that shook Nepal’s capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday has climbed to 876, Nepalese police said Saturday afternoon. The toll rose to over 1,000 later in the day.
The quake collapsed houses, centuries-old temples and cut open roads in the worst tremor in the Himalayan nation in over 80 years.
Hundreds have been injured, including at least one Israeli traveler. Nepal is a very popular travel destination for Israelis.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel would send a plane to evacuate citizens once the airport reopens for operations, and extended an offer to Nepalese officials to send aid.
Liberman also spoke with the ambassador to Nepal, Yaron Meir, and told him he gave instructions to send reinforcements to the embassy in Kathmandu, according to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry.
The building of the Israeli embassy in Kathmandu sustained some damage and embassy staff were operating a situation room from the yard, the Foreign Ministry said, adding that staff were out on foot looking for injured Israelis since roads are blocked.
The devastation is just terrible:
A number of avalanches swept Mount Everest as a result of the quake and initial reports said at least 8 climbers were killed.
Several buildings collapsed in the center of the capital, the ancient Old Kathmandu, including centuries-old temples and towers, said resident Prachanda Sual.
The US Geological Survey revised the magnitude from 7.5 to 7.9 and said the quake hit at 11:56 a.m. local time (0611 GMT) at Lamjung a shallow depth of 11 kilometers (7 miles).
Witnesses and media reports said Saturday’s quake tremors lasted between 30 seconds and two minutes and were felt across the across the border in India, including in the capital New Delhi. AP reporters in Indian cities of Lucknow in the north and Patna in the east also reported strong tremors.
Today, an aftershock as big as an average earthquake, magnitude 6.5, hit the region causing even more damage, with the death toll rising to well over 2,000:
The cawing of crows mixed with terrified screams as the aftershock pummeled the capital city early Sunday afternoon. At magnitude 6.7, it was strong enough to feel like an another earthquake, and came as planeloads of supplies, doctors and relief workers from neighboring countries began arriving in this poor Himalayan nation.
Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake reached from Kathmandu to small villages and to the slopes of Mount Everest, triggering an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts. At least 17 people died there and 61 were injured.
The earthquake centered outside Kathmandu, the capital, was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in over 80 years. It destroyed swaths of the oldest neighborhoods of Kathmandu, and was strong enough to be felt all across parts of India, Bangladesh, China’s region of Tibet and Pakistan. By Sunday afternoon, authorities said at least 2,152 people had died, all but 60 of them in Nepal. At least 721 of them died in Kathmandu alone, and the number of injured nationwide was upward of 5,000.
But outside of the oldest neighborhoods, many in Kathmandu were surprised by how few modern structures — the city is largely a collection of small, poorly constructed brick apartment buildings — collapsed in the quake. While aid workers cautioned that many buildings could have sustained serious structural damage, it was also clear that the death toll would have been far higher had more buildings caved in.
There was an additional complication of a humanitarian angle specific to Israel: surrogate mothers and their Israeli babies:
There were also a number of very lightly wounded Israelis in Nepal, the Foreign Ministry said, and 25 newborns, born to surrogate mothers, were receiving medical treatment.
Many of the Israeli parents and their children were brought to the courtyard of the Israeli Embassy in Kathmandu, Channel 2 reported. Hundreds more Israeli travelers found shelter at the Chabad House in Kathmandu.
Representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the Justice Ministry have been holding intensive meetings over the past 24 hours on what to do about the surrogate mothers in Nepal. Four Israeli couples have already submitted official requests to Interior Minister Gilad Erdan to allow the surrogate mothers to fly to Israel to give birth. Erdan agreed, but was told that the decision was not in his purview. Justice Ministry officials are delaying the reply due to the legal questions that the issue raises, including the question of human trafficking.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that the surrogate mothers are Indian, but Indian law does not allow them to give birth in India. Despite this, the possibility of flying the surrogate mothers to India for the births is being looked into.
The procedures of surrogacy and confirmation of paternity in Israel are complicated. A baby born to a Nepalese surrogate mother is a Nepalese citizen. To allow the baby to be flown to Israel, he or she must undergo a DNA test confirming that his or her father is Israeli. Only then does the Israeli embassy issue the infant a passport.
Due to the extraordinary circumstances, the Interior Ministry has lifted these bureaucratic hurdles for the time being, allowing the fathers to return to Israel with their babies. The Foreign Ministry is making efforts to coordinate with the Nepalese in hopes of resolving the matter as soon as possible.
Israelis can be proud of our country’s huge humanitarian aid airlift to Nepal:
The full IDF aid mission will consist of 240 personnel as well as field hospital crew (h/t Shelley):
According to initial estimates by the Home Front Command following the devastating earthquake in Nepal, some 240 soldiers and officers will take part in the search and rescue team that will take off from Israel to Kathmandu on Sunday.
The delegation will include medical experts and aid workers and will set up a field hospital in the ravaged capital. The primary focus of the team will be to locate and assist the many Israelis stranded by the quake who have yet to make contact with their families.
The Israelis will depart in two planes and stay in Nepal for at least two weeks. The site where the delegation will deploy has yet to be announced and will be decided on Sunday after consultation with an IDF team which took off to Katmandu from Nevatim Airbase on Saturday at midnight.
The first-responder crew includes seven medical, logistics, and rescue officers from Home Front Command and will join up with the local authorities when it lands in Nepal to determine what priorities the Israeli delegation should set in their aid efforts.
Due to the failure of local infrastructure in Nepal, the IDF delegation will include advanced communication equipment which relies on satellites instead of local phone lines.
The delegation to Nepal is expected to be the largest to be deployed in recent years, with a more comprehensive staff than those sent to the Philippines and Japan.
President Reuven Rivlin said on Saturday night, “Our hearts and thoughts are with the nation of Nepal who are dealing with a terrible disaster, and with our loved ones who are in danger and distress.”
Rivlin added that “Israel will extend its hand with a will to aid in search and rescue of the many injured.”
Chabad meanwhile has come to the rescue as it always manages to do in times of emergency and has become a crisis hub in Nepal:
Hundreds of Israeli backpackers and tourists took refuge at the Chabad center in Kathmandu, Nepal, after a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the capital city shortly before noon on Saturday. Some were given emergency medical treatment there as emissaries and volunteers worked frantically to help locate the missing, and to provide food and shelter to the stranded.
… The quake’s damage reached Mount Everest and beyond, setting off landslides that killed at least 18 mountain-climbers, and trapped hikers and backpackers at the start of the climbing season. There are currently no known Israeli deaths from the catastrophe, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Chabad emissaries there, though as many as 200 remain unaccounted for as the death toll continues to climb. Fatalities have also been reported in China and India.
Chani Lifshitz, who co-directs Chabad of Nepal with her husband, Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz, said in a video posted to their Facebook page that a few hundred people had taken refuge at the center, which was slightly damaged by the quake. She tried to reassure loved ones in Israel and abroad.
Thousands of Israeli backpackers and foreign tourists – many of them in their 20s – pass through Nepal and the Chabad House each year.
“We’re trying to calm everyone,” she said, noting that they were experiencing aftershocks even as she was recording the video.
Here is Chabad of Nepal’s Facebook page where you can stay updated and where Israeli tourists are posting updates on their safety and location.
Our hearts go out to the good and gentle people of Nepal. May Hashem send them succour and rescue from Heaven, assisted by aid missions such as IsrAid and other missions from the rest of the world.
Besides the Chabad donations page, you can donate to the IsrAid mission here: