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Quake death toll 'could hit 10,000'

Published 28/04/2015

Rescue work in Kathmandu following the earthquake which left thousands dead in Nepal (International Federation of Red Cross/PA)
Rescue work in Kathmandu following the earthquake which left thousands dead in Nepal (International Federation of Red Cross/PA)
Aid for Nepal being loaded onto a C17 aircraft at RAF Brize Norton prior to its take off for Kathmandu

The death toll from the Nepal earthquake disaster could reach 10,000, the country's prime minister said today, as Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond revealed that UK authorities are investigating claims of the first British fatality.

Mr Hammond said the Foreign Office was investigating unconfirmed reports about a British national living outside the UK being killed by Saturday's 7.8 magnitude quake.

Reports from the ravaged country say the death toll has passed 5,000, but prime minister Sushil Koirala told Reuters it could eventually be double that.

Mr Hammond said: "I've spoken to the Nepalese prime minister this morning to assure him of our commitment to see what other assistance Nepal urgently needs.

"We have a C-17 loaded with British Army Gurkha engineers and equipment in the region. We also have a Department for International Development (DFID) chartered Boeing 767 loaded with rescue teams and supplies. They're both waiting for landing slots when the weather at Kathmandu permits. They will be in and operating as soon as possible.

"In the meantime, we have already got some UK personnel in on other flights and there are 60 British personnel, search and rescue teams and other experts already on the ground delivering assistance."

The latest news came as efforts continued to provide food, water and other aid for the eight million people in 39 districts in the Himalayan nation the UN say have been affected.

A medical student from a British university was among those killed in avalanches on Everest.

The University of Leicester confirmed that American Dr Marisa Eve Girawong had been part-way through studies on its postgraduate mountain medicine course when she died at the peak's base camp in ice-falls triggered by the earthquake.

Dr Girawong, known as Eve, was with the Seattle-based Madison Mountaineering team when disaster struck.

Dr Peter Barry, from the university's infection, immunity and inflammation department, said: "She was delightful to know - a beautiful, intelligent, outgoing person who effortlessly got on with everyone.

"She had plans to continue her work in the mountains and was excited about the adventures ahead of her. This is a real loss to our community."

Entire villages have been wiped out and more than 1.4 million people are in need of food and water, according to the latest reports from Nepal.

British and Irish medical staff, experts and volunteers have been dispatched to the worst-affected areas, with the RAF, firefighters from the UK International Search and Rescue Team and medics from the Doctors Of The World charity among those involved.

Dev Ratna Dhakhwa, secretary general of the Nepal Red Cross Society, said Sherpas would be needed to help reach remote areas where survivors may be cut off.

He said: "The difficulty we face here is that everyone is in need.

"Every day we have had crowds coming to our office asking for tarpaulin sheets. It's a supply and demand problem, we simply cannot help everyone.

"Hopefully, when the aftershocks subside, many people will be able to return to their homes. We are planning the next phase of the response. Thousands of people have no homes to return to, and will need to be moved into tents."

Meanwhile, the agonising wait for news of loved ones goes on for the families of British and Irish people still missing after the worst earthquake to hit the country for more than 80 years.

Members of the Nepalese and Gurkha community in the UK have spoken of their sense of helplessness at watching the "heart-wrenching" images on television.

More than 11,000 ex-Gurkhas have settled in the UK, many around the army town of Aldershot in Hampshire, and the entire community is focused on contacting relatives back home and providing what support they can.

Captain Gary Ghale, 60, formerly of the 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles, said communication with people in villages such as his native Gorkha was proving very difficult.

He said: "The last big quake was about 80 years ago and people are always talking about when the next big quake will hit and it has happened now and everyone is devastated.

"To see all these heart-wrenching pictures, I am just praying, just praying for the safety of the people of Nepal and that help reaches people in time and there is proper sanitisation because the aftermath can kill more people than the earthquake itself."

Another former Gurkha living in Aldershot, Phadak Gurung, said he had just found out that his mother was safe.

The 52-year-old, also from Gorkha, said: "My family, they are fine. I couldn't get in contact with my mother but I have heard that she is OK and that is a great sense of relief."

The UK has already pledged a £5 million package of support, including £3 million released under the Rapid Response Facility (RRF) to address immediate needs on the ground and £2 million to the British Red Cross.

Disaster experts believe the earthquake will leave Nepal dependent on aid from countries such as the UK for years, and recovery from the devastation could take a decade.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) will make a televised appeal for public donations today, launched across all the major broadcasters and fronted by Absolutely Fabulous star and Gurkha campaigner Joanna Lumley. The appeal is due to be broadcast on BBC1 at 5:55pm and 10:50pm, BBC2 at 8pm, and ITV at 6:51pm.

:: Anyone who is caught up in the incident or worried about a family member should call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on +44 (0) 20 7008 0000. To donate, call 0370 60 60 900 or visit the website dec.org.uk.

Ms Lumley said in her appeal that 2,000 years of history had been razed to the ground in minutes.

She said: "On Saturday, terror for millions as the ground beneath them shook.

"Lives wrecked, homes turned to rubble, roads blocked and livelihoods destroyed.

"Nepal is a beautiful country, with an ancient culture. Two thousand years of history razed to the ground in minutes.

"The earthquake may have lasted little more than 60 seconds, the impact will be felt here for years.

"But the emergency is now, the need for help - desperate.

"The majority of families who have either lost their homes or are just to scared to return to them, they are now left to live out in the open, many with no shelter at all.

"Nepal's few hospitals have been overwhelmed, with those injured treated in the streets.

"My father served with the Gurkhas, who for 200 years have sacrificed their lives for Britain. Now it's our turn to help their country.

"The Nepalese are a proud and resourceful people, who don't ask for much. But now many hundreds and thousands of them desperately need our support."

Donors were urged to give o nline to the DEC Nepal Earthquake Appeal at dec.org.uk, or by calling a 24 hour donation line on 0370 60 60 900.

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