KATHMANDU, Nepal — Cattle used to graze in the abandoned lot, picking for fresh shoots and herbs amid the trash. It’s now home to a makeshift settlement for about 500 people left homeless or too afraid to return to their damaged houses.
At a hospital in another part of quake-ravaged Kathmandu, medical staff and volunteers struggle to keep up with the steady stream of patients who have made a desperate trek to the capital from mountain villages where no help has yet arrived. Broken bones are set, wounds are dressed.
But there is a dwindling supply of drugs to ease the pain or fight off infections.
At Pashupatinath Temple, the city’s largest crematorium, thick smoke chokes the air and wind whips ash in swirling eddies. Young boys count cash collected from the grieving. The boys’ job is to keep the fires stoked against wind and rain.
Such scenes — misery, mourning and mobilization — have been replayed in countless variations across Kathmandu since life was upended Saturday when the earth’s plates shifted and heaved beneath the Himalayas.
More than 5,000 people died in the quake. Bodies have been pulled from collapsed homes in mountain villages reachable only by footpaths, as well as from under the wall of snow and ice that buried the base camp for climbers of Mount Everest.
Perhaps no place, however, presents the full tableau of the disaster as vividly as Kathmandu.
The ancient city — amid toppled temples and the pall of funeral pyres — offers a wide view of the enormous needs now facing Nepal even as the final death toll still remains to be tallied.
The United Nations said the 7.8-magnitude quake and its aftershocks have affected 8.1 million people — more than a fourth of Nepal’s population — and that 1.4 million need food assistance. Hundreds of thousands are homeless or too nervous to return to buildings weakened or crack-laced after the temblor.
At a small tent camp in Kathmandu’s Lazimpat neighborhood, survivors share whatever food and water they can gather. Many are originally from the same village.
“Same car, same village, same food, same everything,” says Lawang Lama, a 35-year-old trekking guide who returned to Kathmandu three days before the quake and is now living in the tent camp with about 500 others.
“No selfishness,” adds his sister-in-law, Yangchen Dulka.
In the chaotic entrance to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, an injured man is placed on a blanket on the floor. His thin chest shows through a button-up shirt. His legs are pulled up, knees pointing toward the ceiling.
A doctor quickly flips through Kalu Man Tamang’s chart, which shows a lumbar fracture. Tamang can still move his toes — a good sign — but he may have spinal nerve damage. He has not passed urine in days.
Tamang spent two days under the rubble of his home in Nigale in the Nuwakat District northwest of Kathmandu. Only his head poked from the debris as neighbors slowly pried away the wreckage.
Nearby in the hospital, Lakpa Lama Hyolmo, 26, and her cousins help medical staff as volunteers. They left behind their village of Helambu in the Sindhupalchok region — one of the hardest-hit regions — where at least one of their family members was killed.
“We have nowhere else to go, nothing else to do,” Hyolmo says. “We might as well help.”
Some from Kathmandu have gone in the other direction — taking buses back to their ancestral villages to flee the tent camps and fears of epidemics amid the growing crowds of aid-seekers in the capital.
Many in the exodus from Kathmandu do not even know if their village homes are still standing.
On the steps of the city’s morgue, the heavy odor of rotting corpses is overwhelming. Inside, the bodies are wrapped in sheets and lined up on the floor. Few doctors and members of the military will enter. The stench is too overpowering.
Outside, a young boy carts away bloodstained bedding in a trash can.
Several young men emerge, carrying a stretcher with a corpse wrapped in a sheet. They struggle to hoist it into the back of an ancient ambulance, which will then carry the body to the mass crematorium a few miles away.
One of the young men, Subha Rai, watches the body of his uncle leave, and he fights back tears. He says he searched for his uncle, Plabin Rai, for two days before learning that he had visited a guesthouse that was leveled in the quake. Finally, he found his uncle’s body in the morgue — the top of his head gone, the rest of his body flattened.
Families of the lost must come to the morgue and fight the stench to identify bodies. If a body is unidentified, officials take a photo and burn the body in a mass cremation.
Tek Raj Limbu stands near the flames, watching them consume the bodies of six members of his family. He speaks their names in a flat tone — a eulogy of sorts, a recitation in memoriam.
His daughter: Kaushila Limbu, 19, a third-year nursing student.
His brother: Pitamber Limbu, 44, a retired Singapore police officer.
His sister-in-law: Buddha May Limbu.
His nephews: Prabesh Limbu and Sanju Limbu.
An in-law: Yam Bahadem Limbu, who was scheduled to return to Singapore on Sunday.
The extended family met Saturday near Kathmandu’s Dharahara tower for Yam’s send-off party. Everything began to collapse when the ground began to shake.
“The dead ones are gone. Now the government has to help those in need,” Limbu says, his eyes never leaving the pyres.
Schreiber is reporting from Nepal with the International Reporting Project.