Kathmandu on Edge After Deadly Quake Ravages Nepal

Updated: Apr 27, 2015 11:01 AM ET | Originally published: Apr 26, 2015

Late afternoon on Sunday, a rescue team that spent much of the day carefully combing through the rubble of a five-story building in suburban Kathmandu had a breakthrough.

Peeking through a gap in what was left of the roof, they saw a man trapped inside the collapsed structure in Sitapaila, just off Kathmandu's ring road. The building, which once housed a church and some apartments, had gone from five floors to around one and a half on Saturday when a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck nearly 50 miles outside Nepal's capital, killing more than 4,000 people, according to latest figures Monday, and sending tremors throughout the region.

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Amir Tamang, 32, was on the roof when rescuers reached the trapped man. Shortly after the earthquake, he learned that his father, two aunts, a sister-in-law, his 6-year-old niece and one of his closest friends had been attending a morning prayer service at the church when the ground began to move. The news throughout Sunday was tragic: rescuers recovered the bodies of four family members who were inside when the building toppled. Still, Amir remained hopeful the team would find his father and his friend.

So when rescuers made contact with the trapped man, Amir carefully moved across the roof to catch sight of the quake victim. He couldn't see much, and the rescue team, which had been dispatched from India late on Saturday, couldn't say anything about the trapped man's identity or condition. They only had one task: get him out alive.

Amir's story of tragedy and hope is among an untold number that are unfolding across this Himalayan nation as it deals with the aftermath of Saturday's devastating quake, the country's worst in 81 years. It was in 1934 when a magnitude-8.4 quake struck Nepal and the eastern Indian state of Bihar, killing nearly 11,000 people. In the wake of Saturday's disaster, a number of countries have pledged support for rescue and relief efforts, and supplies and teams of rescue workers from India, China and Pakistan began arriving in the country as it began to dig out.

In Kathmandu on Sunday, hospitals were overwhelmed as patients streamed in, many of them in need of surgery for severe wounds. Dr. Santosh Poudil, an orthopedic and trauma surgeon at Kathmandu's national trauma center, said a lack of resources was hampering the response at his hospital. Only one of its six operating rooms was functioning due to a combination of a rush of patients and a lack of supplies to keep all six of the rooms running simultaneously. The situation was "very difficult," he told TIME. "Most severe cases are now in a queue for surgery."

UNICEF said Sunday that nearly 1 million children across Nepal were in "urgent" need of humanitarian assistance. The death toll is expected to rise as more details emerge about the scale of devastation outside the capital.

See Photos From a Survivor of the Mount Everest Avalanche

A cloud of snow and debris triggered by an earthquake flies towards Everest Base Camp, moments before parts of the camp were flattened, in the Himalayas, Nepal, on April 25, 2015.
A cloud of snow and debris triggered by an earthquake flies towards Everest Base Camp, moments before parts of the camp were flattened, in the Himalayas, Nepal, on April 25, 2015.Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images
A cloud of snow and debris triggered by an earthquake flies towards Everest Base Camp, moments before parts of the camp were flattened, in the Himalayas, Nepal, on April 25, 2015.
The avalanche, triggered by an earthquake outside Kathmandu, Nepal, flattened parts of Everest Base Camp on April, 25, 2015.
Rescuers help a porter onto a makeshift stretcher after he was injured by the avalanche on Mount Everest, triggered by an earthquake outside Kathmandu, Nepal.
Mount Everest Avalanche Photos
Mount Everest Avalanche Photos
Mount Everest Avalanche Photos
Mount Everest Avalanche Photos
A person injured in Saturday's avalanche is carried by rescue members to be airlifted by a rescue helicopter at Everest Base Camp on April 26, 2015.
An injured person is loaded onto a rescue helicopter at Everest Base Camp on April 26, 2015.
Prayer flags frame a rescue helicopter as it ferries the injured from Everest Base Camp on April 26, 2015, one day after an avalanche triggered by an earthquake outside Kathmandu, Nepal.
A cloud of snow and debris triggered by an earthquake flies towards Everest Base Camp, moments before parts of the camp
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Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images
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"What you're seeing in Kathmandu is only the tip of the iceberg," Jamie McGoldrick, the resident representative in Nepal for the U.N. Development Programme, told TIME. "What's happening in the areas northwest from here is quite significant damage."

The earthquake damaged buildings and infrastructure in Kathmandu, across rural Nepal and in parts of India. It also triggered avalanches in the Himalayas; at least 18 people were killed by cascading snow and debris at the base camp on Mount Everest.

Kathmandu itself remains on edge, with a series of powerful aftershocks driving many of its 1.2 million people to seek shelter in the city's parks, on its streets and in its roundabouts. As night fell Sunday, many residents prepared to spend a second night out in the open, fearful of what might happen when the ground shakes again.

Back in Sitapaila, after the breakthrough came a roadblock. Around an hour after the man's sighting, and as Amir's hopes rose, the operation was paused. Among other things, the man inside was partially trapped under a grill — possibly a part of what was once a staircase, according to one of the rescue-team members — but cutting him out was going to be tougher now that they realized the structure was less stable than it first seemed. They had to guard against upsetting the fragile balance between the displaced bricks, chipped plaster, mangled piping and other debris that was keeping what was left of the structure standing — and keeping the man from being crushed.

An ambulance that had been waiting in front of the building to rush the man to the hospital was ordered to move away. Space was made for the installation of lighting, as rescuers tried to work out how to save him without bringing down the entire broken edifice.

Amir was standing in front of the building when the operation hit the hurdle. "I still have faith," he said. The news earlier in the day was "very painful." But then, as the rescue team prepared to work into the night, he repeated, "I have faith."

Read next: See the Most Dramatic Rescue From the Nepal Earthquake

Death Toll Climbs as Nepal Digs Out After Massive Quake

Death toll passes 2,300 as major aftershocks continue to rock Nepal
A monk inspects the damage at Nepalese heritage site Syambhunaath Stupa, also known as monkey temple, after a powerful earthquake struck Nepal, in Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.Narendra Shrestha—EPA
Death toll passes 2,300 as major aftershocks continue to rock Nepal
Rescue workers remove debris as they search for victims of earthquake in Bhaktapur near Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.
Nepalese policemen clear the debris at Basantapur Durbar Square, damaged in Saturday's earthquake, in Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.
Nepalese rescue personnel help a trapped earthquake survivor, center right, as his friend lies dead next to him in Swyambhu, in Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.
Injured people receive treatment at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Maharajgunj, Kathmandu, on April 26, 2015, one day after a massive earthquake hit Nepal.
Bodies kept for identification at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Maharajgunj, Kathmandu, on April 26, 2015.
A woman weeps during the cremation of a victim of Saturdayís earthquake, at the Pashupatinath temple, on the banks of Bagmati river, in Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.
Flames rise from burning funeral pyres during the cremation of victims of Saturday's earthquake, at the Pashupatinath temple on the banks of Bagmati river, in Kathmandu on April 26, 2015.
People search for family members trapped inside collapsed houses a day after an earthquake in People search for family members trapped inside collapsed houses a day after an earthquake in Bhaktapur on April 26, 2015.
People at the site of the collapsed Dharahara Tower, which fell in the earthquake that hit outside Kathmandu, Nepal, on April 25, 2015.
People gathered at Tundikhel, an open ground in central Kathmandu, Nepal, on April 25, 2015. Many families spent their nights there in fear of aftershocks.
A monk inspects the damage at Nepalese heritage site Syambhunaath Stupa, also known as monkey temple, after a powerful e
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Narendra Shrestha—EPA
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