The death toll from an earthquake that ripped through Nepal will climb “much higher”, the government warned Sunday, as relief teams raced to reach survivors of the disaster that has already claimed more than 7,000 lives.
Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said the toll will jump once teams reached far-flung villages feared flattened in the worst quake to hit the impoverished Himalayan nation in more than 80 years.
“There are still villages where we know that all houses have been destroyed, but have not yet been able to reach,” Mahat said in a statement.
“The aftershocks have not receded and we expect the final casualty numbers to climb much higher,” the minister said, as he appealed for hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign donations to help rebuild the devastated country.
The 7.8-magnitude quake wreaked a trail of death and destruction when it erupted around midday eight days ago, reducing much of the capital Kathmandu to rubble and triggering a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest.
After the government ruled out finding more people buried alive in the ruins of Kathmandu on Saturday, the focus has shifted to delivering food, tents and other relief to thousands in remote areas.
In the hardest-hit districts of Gorkha and Sindhupalchowk, almost 90 per cent of the mostly stone and mud homes have been destroyed, the United Nations said in its latest situation report.
“Our priority now is really to try to reach those people (in remote areas), get immediate assistance to them,” the UN`s head of humanitarian affairs Valerie Amos said.
But Amos said on Saturday that she was worried that the tonnes of foreign aid pouring into Nepal was being held up by red tape.
“I was extremely concerned to hear reports that customs was taking such a long time,” said Amos.
“He has undertaken to ensure that happens, so I hope that from now we will see an improvement in those administrative issues.”
Planes loaded with relief supplies from around the world were pouring into landlocked Nepal, but there have been numerous reports of many getting stuck at Kathmandu’s small international airport, and customs officials stopping trucks filled with aid from crossing into the country from neighbouring India.
The airport has been closed to heavy planes because of concerns about the condition of the single runway after the quake and a series of strong aftershocks, said Birendra Prasad Shrestha, manager of the Tribhuvan International Airport.