KATHMANDU, Nepal — The rescue chopper had been delayed more than two hours by weather, and when it landed doctors were quick to pull out an elderly woman, her face caked with blood, who looked at them and said, “Where have I come?”
Doctors told Ratna Kumari Shrestha that she was at a military hospital in Kathmandu, about 50 miles from her home in Sindhupalchowk. Four days after Saturday’s earthquake, she had been brought to safety, as rescuers were extending their reach to Nepal’s remote villages and finding scenes of utter devastation and increasingly distraught survivors.
Images of Sindhupalchowk, and descriptions by people who had seen it, portrayed it as thoroughly destroyed, its simple mud-brick houses flattened, heaps of rubble covering human corpses and livestock, and dazed wounded.
“No houses left, no houses left, everything is finished,” Shrestha wailed as doctors took her to the triage center.
In Nepal Tuesday, rain descended on the troubled country once again, prompting landslides and complicating the efforts of rescuers to reach the harder-hit districts in the mountains outside Kathmandu, where whole villages had been laid waste by the 7.8 scale earthquake.
The death toll continued to mount, more than 5,000 and counting, according to Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs. Nearly 11,000 have been injured, and more than 450,000 people are said to be displaced from their homes.
In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said government agencies are being deployed in rescue and relief efforts. But he did not provide any concrete plans or policies for relief work and reconstruction efforts.
“The government will learn from its weaknesses as we continue to find ways to deal with this devastation,” Koirala said. “This tragedy has taught us that we need organizational management in natural disaster management.”
Teams of international rescuers and aid workers arrived by the planeful at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, but the weather, the influx of help and the small airport’s lack of parking bays caused backups. Ten aircraft were stuck waiting on the tarmac in New Delhi at one point during the day.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has sent a disaster-response team of 130 humanitarian and search-and-rescue workers, and the United States has pledged $10 million in relief assistance. More than a dozen other countries have pledged assistance or sent aid, including neighbors India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as the European Union and Israel.
Some good news: The climbers who had been stranded on Mount Everest were all rescued. Gordon Janow, the director of programs for the Seattle-based trekking company Alpine Ascents International, said that about 100 remaining climbers on the side of the mountain after Saturday’s avalanche were ferried by a small helicopter to safety. Other climbers, on the Chinese side of the mountain, are unable to leave because of bad roads.
A spokesman for the Nepalese Army, Brig. Gen. Jagadish Chandra Pokharel, said that the military was still in the search-and-rescue portion of the mammoth post-quake operation and was reluctant to give up hope of finding survivors. He noted that a Turkish search-and-rescue team had pulled a man, bloody and covered in dust, out from under a pile of rubble on Monday.
“We have not decided the first phase is over, in the hope we may still find somebody alive somewhere,” Pokharel said.
The Americans, too, shared those feelings.
“There’s still potential to save lives,” said Bill Berger, the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team leader in Nepal. “Everybody’s moving with all deliberate speed.”
He had arrived in Kathmandu Tuesday afternoon with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department’s urban search-and-rescue team — 57 physicians, paramedics, logistics professionals and structural engineers who are experts in rescuing victims from collapsed structures — plus two dogs.
The team would be dispatched to a district not far from the epicenter of Saturday’s quake, about 50 miles from Kathmandu, where the majority of the casualties occurred.
Samuel Marie-Fanon, the regional rapid response coordinator for the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department, said that, according to government figures, 70 percent of the deaths so far have come in these rural areas, compared with 25 percent in the capital of Kathmandu.
“The situation is much more worrying in those districts,” he said. “The big rains have started, and all this week people are sleeping in the open. There is an obvious need for shelter and tents or tarpaulins. The priorities are water, food and, of course, medical assistance.”
Prem Kima, a Nepali who lives in New Delhi, said that his family had survived the earthquake but that their house, not far from the quake’s epicenter in Lamjung, did not.
“There is rubble everywhere. Everyone is sleeping in the cattle sheds. That’s how people survive in my village,” he said. “Everyone is trying to help each other.”
Even in the best of times, the place is difficult to reach, he said, one measure of the types of challenges rescuers will face in the days ahead. Once you leave the main highway, he explained, you have to travel on a small road of sand and stones for an hour and walk another two to three hours to the village.
“Even if someone wants to come to my village with relief and rescue it’s going to take a long time,” Kima said.
Kate Schecter, president and chief executive of World Neighbors, said that charity workers went to the village of Bahunapati, an area where they have previously been active, and found that all the homes have been destroyed.
“Children and babies are sleeping in the rain, scores of people have died, and no help has arrived. Disease is of major concern,” she said.
All day long, Indian military helicopters were ferrying patients from the far-flung areas to King Birendra Military Hospital, where groups of doctors and volunteer medical students unloaded patients and quickly classified them in a color-coded system — red for the critically injured and yellow and green for the less serious injuries.
Bimala Bhujel, 26, had been brought there with a spinal injury. When the earthquake hit, she recalled, she ran to snatch up her 4-month-old son. Outside, debris flew and she crashed into the ground, her body twisting into an odd angle as she tried to shelter her son in the fall.
“I fell down, and my child’s head hit the ground,” she recalled. “I was trying to protect him, but I wasn’t able to.”
In the end, she fractured her spine, the little boy his skull. They had been brought to the hospital after she lay outside the toppled health clinic in her home village for three days, where she had been given only a painkiller and a little ointment.
The children of the village had been playing a volleyball match when the quake hit, she said, so she hoped some of them had survived. Her parents did not. Nor did her sister.
“There are dead bodies everywhere all around the village,” she said. “Every few minutes somebody finds a corpse in my village. And there is not a single house left standing.”
Gowen reported from Itanagar, India, and Kaphle from Washington. Brian Murphy contributed from Washington, and Mrigakshi Shukla contributed from New Delhi.