PATHMATINAM, Nepal — Picking their way among piles of fieldstones and bricks that had once been their homes, villagers solemnly pointed out unmarked spots where the April 25 earthquake had taken a toll on their small farming community in the devastated Nuwakot district of north-central Nepal.
“Here we lost a child of 12 years. His name was Vivek,” said Raj Prithvi, 50, a retired army officer and an unofficial village leader. “Here two buffalo died under the rocks. Their names were Rama and Rai.” Behind another ruined farmhouse, an ox had been crushed by falling debris. “His name was Dil Bahadur Rai, and he was 15 years old,” Prithvi said.
In less than two minutes, the 7.8-magnitude quake flattened most of the 125 houses here, setting off rumbling landslides on the green Himalayan foothills almost directly above and collapsing rudimentary mud-and-stone walls. Many livestock sheds also toppled. Only three newer structures built with concrete, including Prithvi’s house, remained standing and largely intact.
Miraculously, just one person in the village died, although numerous farm animals were lost. But across Nuwakot, a spectacularly beautiful yet impoverished region of winding mountain roads, terraced fields and rushing rivers, the cumulative death toll of about 800 from the quake was one of the highest in the country.
Only two other districts suffered more casualties — Sindhupalchok, near the epicenter, with about 2,800 dead so far, and Kathmandu, the capital, with about 1,200 dead. Nationwide, the latest toll, released Sunday, was 7,276 dead and 14,267 injured, and Nepali officials said they expect the totals to continue rising as search teams reach more remote areas.
“We thought everyone would die. It did not happen, but all the village is broken,” Prithvi said Sunday, as goats and chickens scrambled nearby among the piles of rocks. “The people are living in the fields and in tents. They still have to feed the animals and themselves, and they are trying to make better shelters, but the damage is very great,” he said.
During a day-long drive through Nuwakot, a Washington Post reporter and photographer found similar scenes of physical devastation, but few reports of multiple deaths, in numerous towns and villages along the main road north from Kathmandu, a vertiginous alpine route between steep cliffs and verdant riverside valleys planted with rice and wheat.
All along the road, hundreds of bright plastic tents, some orange and some blue, dotted the hillsides. Many had been set up right next to ruined houses, and some enterprising families were trying to make basic repairs, using bamboo poles or salvaged boards to prop up shattered timbers, dented tin roof sheets and cracked mud walls.
More than a week after the quake, there were signs that medical help had reached many areas and that the injured had been treated and sent home. One man with a broken leg in a cast was waiting by the roadside on a stretcher to be transported to his village. A woman with a gashed forehead was back in her village after receiving stitches at a clinic.
Amid widespread complaints of government inaction and delays in dispatching relief and food aid, there was also evidence that supplies had begun arriving from other sources. Some of the distribution efforts were small, informal and chaotic. Others were organized with almost military precision, including a massive operation led by a guru from India.
In the past several days, many Nepalis have alleged that neither government nor international relief efforts were reaching the worst-affected regions. The problem was exacerbated by customs restrictions and an official “one-door” policy for channeling all incoming supplies through government agencies. Over the weekend, however, Nepali officials agreed to allow both local and international groups to distribute supplies on their own.
At one spot beside the road Sunday, where a long suspension footbridge spanned the Narayani River, a throng of villagers surrounded a single truck of supplies brought by a doctor from London. Clamoring for sacks of rice and packets of medicine, they stuffed the supplies into straw baskets, hoisted them onto their backs and set off, one by one, across the swaying bridge high above the water.
Farther north, near the riverside town of Devi Ghat, an Indian religious charity called Dera Sacha Sauda was setting up a massive aid and medical camp in a banana field. Caravans of cargo trucks and ambulances arrived all day after crossing the Indian border, and rows of white tents were being set up next to a destroyed village.
Hundreds of uniformed volunteers unloaded boxes under the instructions of their guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a bearded man wearing jeans and sneakers who said he was also a filmmaker. Homeless families waited uncertainly beside each tent, while the volunteers brought blankets and food and aides filmed Singh blessing each donation.
“Yesterday we surveyed 61 villages, and we found the same conditions in each one — a few concrete houses in good shape and everything else down,” said Surap Garg, an aide to Singh. “There are not enough tents, and everyone is asking for them. We will try to bring more as soon as we can.”
Some of the ruined villages appeared to have been abandoned, with few signs of life among the piles of rubble. But in others, the inhabitants had returned to their daily chores after salvaging all useful items from their collapsed homes, putting up makeshift shelters for their surviving animals and clearing away debris and rubble.
As dusk fell on Pathmatinam, almost everyone in the village of 500 seemed to be in action. Small children herded the buffaloes and oxen to their temporary enclosures, while older girls carried dented metal pails for milking. Women cooked pots of rice and vegetables on gas burners set next to their tents, and men with saws and hammers pried boards and tin sheets from destroyed homes, hoping they could be reused.
Inside a temporary shed, an injured young buffalo was moaning, but the villagers said he had gotten medicine and would recover. A child clambered past on a rocky path, prodding a small female buffalo forward with a branch. The ungainly animal kept looking back and mooing encouragement at a spindly, cream-colored creature following close behind — her newborn calf.