Just over two weeks after thousands died in a mammoth earthquake, Nepal got hit hard again Tuesday — with another powerful tremor that has left dozens more dead, more than 1,000 injured and questions about what’s next for the already traumatized Asian nation.
The fact that Nepal just endured a similar horror, not to mention waves of aftershocks that followed, didn’t diminish Tuesday’s damage or shock. More buildings collapsed, more landslides rumbled, and more people scrambled for their lives.
“For the first seconds, it was complete silence. By the fifth second, everybody started to scream,” said Marc Sarrado, a 41-year-old documentarian from Spain who was in Nepal’s Nuwakot Valley, about two hours northwest of Kathmandu, when the quake hit.
“It was really, really intense. Even when the shaking stopped, people were still screaming. They were completely panicked, because they knew exactly what it was.”
Tuesday’s magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck about 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) deep, the U.S. Geological Survey said. For comparison’s sake, the magnitude-7.8 quake on April 25 — which killed more than 8,000 — was centered east of, rather than west of Kathmandu and a little farther away (50 miles). That earlier tremor was also more than three times bigger and 5.6 times stronger, in terms of energy released, according to the USGS.
So, yes, it could have been worse. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous.
Nepalese police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam said at least 50 people in his country had died as of late Tuesday night. More than 1,260 had been counted as injured at that point, with dozens having been rescued alive from rubble, according to government spokesman Minendra Rijal.
The carnage wasn’t confined to Nepal. China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported that a woman in Tibet died Tuesday afternoon after falling rocks hit her car. At least 17 more people died in northeastern India, according to Indian Home Ministry spokesman Kuldeep Dhatwalia. India’s military was also involved inside Nepal, caring for casualties and flying them by helicopter from the village of Mrigu to Kathmandu.
This latest quake only adds to the stress for residents of a region who had been trying to return to normalcy, until Mother Nature reasserted herself.
It was “like the whole Earth was alive,” said Asim Rai, after huddling with his family in Kathmandu.
Throngs rush out into the streets of Kathmandu
Once again, residents of Nepal’s capital and most populated city found themselves in the middle of a nightmare, in the middle of the day.
Open space is often a precious commodity in Kathmandu, but especially on Tuesday. The city’s roads quickly clogged with people, many of them crying, according to Sajan Sharma.
CNN iReporter Prashup Rajbhandar initially huddled with loved ones as his four-story house swung back and forth, before rushing outside. Now, fearing a crack in his house, he’s not sure if he’ll ever go back home — instead making do by cooking on his lawn and sleeping in cars.
“People are very scared,” Rajbhandari said. “And they don’t know what is going on.”
Another resident of the capital, Mingma Sherpa, said he and his friends jumped out of his car when they felt the earth begin to tremble. They ran with crowds of other people desperately seeking open space in a congested area of Kathmandu where there are few.
The quake also caused a spasm of chaos at Kathmandu’s airport, where Channel NewsAsia reporter Jack Board filmed hundreds of people running from the building as the ground rumbled.
Paul Dillon, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, saw “hundreds of people pouring out of … buildings (amid) a lot of confusion, a lot of anxiety” as he drove around Kathmandu. Colleagues reported many buildings having collapsed and others on the verge.
“You never get used to seeing telephone poles swaying and surfing past you,” he told CNN. “Or buildings just wobbling … as the earth moves beneath your feet.”
A return of landslides, destruction and fear
While more people may have been affected in Kathmandu than anywhere else in the region, simply by virtue of its size, that doesn’t mean it was hit the hardest.
Sabin Shrestha, a social activist, saw people run toward the hills in a village on the capital’s outskirts as fresh cracks appeared in dozens of houses.
As happened late last month, the tremor set off landslides. Landslides also occurred around Sindupalchowk, the district that suffered so much late last month. Anil Thapa, a journalist there, reported multiple houses down.
People in Lukla, a town that serves as a gateway to the Mount Everest region, rushed to the airport so they could be in an open area as the earth shook again. Most of Lukla’s buildings are perched precariously on hilly ground.
Many houses are damaged, he said, and the hospital in Lukla was tending to the injured, including four high school students from the village of Chaurikharka. The students were carried on stretchers on the half-hour walk uphill to Lukla. The only way to access Chaurikharka and other Sherpa villages is by foot.
The airport is in a risky setting because of the short runway that’s surrounded by mountains.
But on Tuesday, Chungba Sherpa was glad to be there.
“People are here because there is open space,” he said by telephone. “They are very scared.”
Within a few hours of the main quake, tents dotted open spaces around Kathmandu and other communities — much like what happened in the days after April 25.
Bhrikuti Rai, a journalist, is not sure if she’ll camp out in a Kathmandu park or in her house. She saw many people carrying tents and mats, planning to sleep outside.
“Just when people are thinking life is returning back to normal,” Rai said, “this has once again created fear.”
Expert: More aftershocks likely
The fact such a big quake hit so soon after the one last month is proof that another one — perhaps bigger, perhaps smaller — could come at any time. To drive home this point, residents in the region dealt with a number of powerful aftershocks, including one at magnitude 6.3 about a half hour after the initial quake.
Such seismic activity is hardly unprecedented for Nepal and the vicinity. After all, earthquakes created the country’s signature mountains, such as Mount Everest.
“It’s land crashing into land (and) it’s going up, not going under,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said of the collision of the Eurasian and Indian plates, warning of dangerous landslides as monsoon season approaches. “Every time it crashes, the Earth moves. Every time it shakes, there’s strain.”
Amy Vaughan, a USGS geophysicist, notes the 7.3 quake — while still, technically, an aftershock — has rattled things again. It may settle down eventually, but not right away.
“Generally, in the days and weeks and months (seismic activity) tapers off usually, and the intensity and frequency of the aftershocks will die down,” Vaughan said. “But … this is going to temporarily increase (the aftershocks).”
So are the Nepalese people ready?
Sarrado feels — once the initial shock subsided — most people in Kathmandu, at least, seemed to be composed.
“They know what it means by now,” he said. “Everybody is reacting very well … The Nepalese society has learned so fast to deal with an earthquake from an emotional point of view.”
Saugat Adhikari, a blogger and lifelong Nepalese resident, isn’t so sure. He worries about poorly constructed homes and what he saw as some people’s complacency, after being on guard for a few days last month.
“I don’t think people were more prepared this time; people really felt like (the threat) was gone,” Adhikari said. “Now they are more frightened.”
CNN’s Moni Basu, Sugam Pokharel, Bharati Naik, Harmeet Singh, Wilfred Chan, Sarah Brown, Pamela Boykoff, Nimet Kirac, Bex Wright, Hilary Whiteman and Sumnima Udas contributed to this report.