TIME Nepal

1,000 Europeans Still Missing After Nepal Earthquake

A victim of the earthquake searches for her belongings among debris of her house on in Bhaktapur, Nepal on April 29, 2015.
David Ramos—Getty Images A victim of the earthquake searches for her belongings among debris of her house on in Bhaktapur, Nepal on April 29, 2015.

Rescue efforts are still underway in the Himalayan country

Nearly a week after an earthquake devastated Nepal, the country’s European Union ambassador has confirmed that 12 E.U. citizens were killed and said 1,000 people from the E.U. are still missing.

Speaking on Friday, Ambassador Rensje Teerink told Reuters: “We don’t know where they are, or (where) they could be.”

He said most of the Europeans were tourists in the Langtang and Lukla areas of Nepal. Langtang, a region north of the Kathmandu Valley, is a popular destination for trekkers and has suffered from dangerous mudslides and an avalanche. Lukla, a town in the north-east, sits at the base of Mount Everest and is now an important base for the rescue effort after the April 25 quake killed at least 18 climbers.

The death toll from the 7.9 magnitude quake is now over 6,200 and thousands more remain unaccounted for.

[Reuters]

TIME Nepal

Life Is Crawling Back to Normal in Nepal’s Quake-Hit Capital

Nepalese resident Nomita Khadka leans on her crutches as she looks at the remains of her home in Kathmandu on May 1, 2015.
Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images Nepalese resident Nomita Khadka leans on her crutches as she looks at the remains of her home in Kathmandu on May 1, 2015.

The death toll from the quake has climbed to 6,260

(KATHMANDU, Nepal) — Fresh croissants emerged from a popular bakery and were quickly snapped up. Farmers delivered fresh produce and lines disappeared at gasoline stations. Slowly, life edged back toward a semblance of normal in Nepal’s quake-hit capital Friday as residents packed up tents and moved indoors.

As rescue workers continued to comb the rubble in Kathmandu for survivors, the government said it was giving the equivalent of $1,000 to families of each victim killed in Saturday’s earthquake, and another $400 for funeral costs, according to state-run Nepal Radio.

The death toll from the mammoth quake climbed to 6,260, police said, including those who died in an avalanche on Mount Everest, plus more than 60 elsewhere in the region. The city got a lift Thursday when two survivors, including a 15-year-old boy, were rescued after being buried in debris for five days.

Although poorer sections of the city remained strewn with collapsed buildings, there were visibly fewer tents standing in a central part of Kathmandu that had been packed with people in the first few days after the magnitude-7.8 quake hit amid repeated aftershocks.

Krishna Maharjan, a farmer on the outskirts, brought green onions and cauliflower on his bicycle into the city.

“We are trying to get as much fresh food to the people as possible,” he said. “I feel it is our small contribution. But that’s what we can do and every little bit helps.”

More than 130,000 houses were reportedly destroyed, according to the U.N. humanitarian office. Its chief, Valerie Amos, landed in Nepal for a three-day visit to meet victims and local leaders. She plans to visit areas outside the Kathmandu Valley, according to the deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Farhan Haq.

“Inaccessibility to some remote areas, the lack of helicopters, poor communication and security concerns remain the main challenges in delivering relief,” Haq said. In the past 48 hours, the U.N. Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, has delivered nearly 30 metric tons of supplies, including tents, water purification tablets, and first aid and hygiene kits.

A group of Nepal’s Gurkhas serving the British army have rushed back home to help their quake-hit countrymen get clean drinking water. The soldiers from the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers Unit on Thursday set up a portable water purification unit on the Kathmandu grounds of the old royal palace.

“I am just glad I could serve my countrymen when they really needed something so necessary like clean drinking water,” said Cpl. Bhesh Gurung, 34. “I have been away for 13 years serving in a foreign land and finally I can do something for my motherland.”

TIME Nepal

Life Crawling Back to Normal in Nepal’s Quake-Hit Capital

Nepali policemen in Kathmandu, Nepal, April 30, 2015
Manish Swarup—AP Nepali policemen in Kathmandu, Nepal, April 30, 2015

The latest death toll figure stands at more than 6,000 killed in Nepal

(KATHMANDU, NEPAL) — Life was slowly edging back toward normal in Nepal’s quake-hit capital Friday as residents packed up tents and moved indoors, farmers delivered fresh produce and lines disappeared at gasoline stations. Fresh croissants even emerged from a popular bakery and were quickly snapped up.

As rescue workers continued to comb the rubble in Kathmandu for survivors, the government said it was handing out the equivalent of $1,000 to families for each victim killed in Saturday’s earthquake, and another $400 for funeral costs, according to state-run Nepal Radio.

The death toll from the mammoth quake climbed to 6,198, including those who died in an avalanche on Mount Everest, plus more than 60 elsewhere in the region. The city got a lift Thursday when two survivors, including a 15-year-old boy, were rescued after being buried in debris for five days.

Although poorer sections of the city remained strewn with collapsed buildings, there were visibly fewer tents standing in a central part of Kathmandu that had been packed with people in the first few days after the magnitude 7.8 quake hit amid repeated aftershocks.

Krishna Maharjan, a farmer on the outskirts, brought green onions and cauliflower on his bicycle into the city.

“We are trying to get as much fresh food to the people as possible,” he said. “I feel it is our small contribution. But that’s what we can do and every little bit helps.”

MORE: Six More Ways to Give to Nepal Earthquake Relief

More than 130,000 houses are reportedly destroyed, according to the U.N. humanitarian office. Its chief, Valerie Amos, landed in Nepal for a three-day visit to meet victims and local leaders. She plans to visit areas outside the Kathmandu Valley, according to the deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Farhan Haq.

“Inaccessibility to some remote areas, the lack of helicopters, poor communication and security concerns remain the main challenges in delivering relief,” Haq said. In the past 48 hours, the U.N. Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, has delivered nearly 30 metric tons of supplies, including tents, water purification tablets, and first aid and hygiene kits.

A group of Nepal’s Gurkhas serving the British army have rushed back home to help their quake-hit countrymen get some clean drinking water. The soldiers from the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers Unit on Thursday set up a portable water purification unit on the Kathmandu grounds of the old royal palace.

“I am just glad I could serve my countrymen when they really needed something so necessary like clean drinking water,” said Corporal Bhesh Gurung, 34. “I have been away for 13 years serving in a foreign land and finally I can do something for my motherland.”

Gurung and his fellow Gurkha soldiers, helped by some Nepalese soldiers, are pumping ground water, filtering it in a purification unit and storing it in a 5,000-liter tank.

TIME Nepal

Americans Stranded in Nepal Mountains for 5 Days Tell Their Story of Survival

Adam McCauley for TIME Corey Ascolani, 34, Della Hoffman, 31, and Eric Jean, 32, at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal, on April 30, 2015

Speaking exclusively with TIME, they describe their rescue from the barren Langtang mountains following the Nepal earthquake

Sitting in the library of the U.S. embassy in Kathmandu, Corey Ascolani, 34, signs on to his Facebook page for the first time in a week. In the top right corner of the page, the notification’s icon is flagged bright red — the result of family members and friends pleading for information.

Beside him, eyes affixed to their own monitors, are Eric Jean, 32, and Della Hoffman, 31, from Colorado. On April 25, these three Americans, along with 50 others, were stranded in Langtang district, a popular trekking region in central Nepal, when the 7.9-magnitude earthquake, and subsequent landslides, destroyed the region’s celebrated trails. Stranded for more than six days, the trio was rescued Thursday when U.S. Special Forces choppered them, and 27 others, to safety.

The serrated snow-capped peaks of Langtang have lured intrepid travelers for generations. Last Saturday, with mild temperatures and clear skies, this trekking haven ensnared Eric and Della. They set out at around 9 a.m. from Syabru Besi, a small town in central Nepal where buses drop off their pack-laden passengers. It was their fifth day in the landlocked country, and their final stop on a yearlong round-the-world trip. They planned to return home on June 2.

Cory had also arrived earlier in April, traveling to Nepal for the pristine hiking and the promise of meditation. Around 9:30 a.m., he set off from Syabru Besi at a brisk pace, as the low-lying clouds were melted by the rising sun.

By noon, Corey, Eric and Della found themselves at one of the iconic teahouses, painted turquoise and white, in the village of Bamboo. Cascading down steppes in the alpine valley, the village is framed between mountain and the Langtang River. Finding seats at one of the five tables on the sun-drenched terrace, Eric and Della ordered tea and chapati (South Asia unleavened bread) and were settling down to rest.

They heard the earthquake first.

Hundreds of meters overhead, the violent quaking had loosed a far more immediate threat. Moments after the Nepali villagers burst from exits of the teahouse, Eric and Della watched as a thunderous shower of rock coursed down the side of the mountain. “The rocks sounded like cannon fire,” Eric said.

One of the largest boulders, untold feet in diameter, tore through the teahouse less than 200 m from the couple’s table. Compelled by fear alone, Della climbed to her feet and rushed to end of the terrace nearest the river. There, she knelt down in a brace position, her back to the mountain. Eric, warm tea still in hand, hesitated for a few moments before crawling beneath a wooden table.

Corey, watching others tip their tables toward the incoming rocks, simply stood up, pressed record on his GoPro camera, and stared at the rocky torrent careening toward the valley floor. “I don’t know why I did it,” Corey said. “I was watching where the rocks were coming from in the hopes I might get out of the way in time.”

When the tumbling rocks came to rest, the valley was choked with plumes of dust, as sharp-edged shards of showered rock blocked the trails both up and downstream. The disaster left one Nepalese guide bleeding from the head and another local villager dead.

At this altitude, Nepal’s Himalayan expanse can be as harsh as it is idyllic. As one traverses east or west, upstream or down, toward the peak or into its valleys, Langtang’s mystique is easily missed: anything made for or by man, typically has to be walked into this remote region. The only crop that grows at such altitude is potato, and this frugal diet is supplemented chiefly by yak’s cheese, with occasional vegetables carries by a sandaled train of porters.

And so just moments after noon on April 25, Corey, Eric and Della worried they might not be able to walk out.

Stranded in a foreign place, the trio and others in Bamboo village looked to the locals for guidance. In one lull between earthquake and aftershock on Saturday afternoon, they followed the Nepalese away from the riverbed and up onto a nearby flat. The spot, tucked behind two immense boulders, provided a natural barrier between themselves and the mountain.

By late afternoon, as crude tents and shelters had started to sprout up, other hikers began to arrive, turned back by blocked trails. Fresh and weary faces brought news of near misses and wanton destruction. Many reported that fallen rock had effectively blocked all trails off the mountain pass.

Without power or a working cellular signal, the group had only one communications tool: a single satellite handset carried by one of the hikers.

Each person took their turn typing their email addresses, one character at a time, into brief but critical missives. After establishing a signal, the group relayed this information to the girl’s mother abroad. “We were all relieved to know that somebody out there knew where we were,” Della told TIME.

MORE: Six More Ways to Give to Nepal Earthquake Relief

But Saturday’s disaster had created a bubble of its own. For Corey, Della and Eric, the folded mountains that separate the Bamboo village from Kathmandu, also masked the size and scale of the earthquake. By Sunday, the number killed by the earthquake would climb to 3,200. (By Friday morning, that toll had reached 5,800.)

“We didn’t understand the gravity of what happened until we received those first few messages,” said Eric.

By then the group had organized themselves into smaller teams. Lacking food and basic supplies, they again turned to the local Nepalese, pooling 20,000 rupees to purchase food, blankets and any cushions found in the rubble they could salvage as mattresses.

They collected buckets of water, boiling each to ensure it was safe to drink. Together, they even cleared a large circle of land adjacent to the river, marking the center with an H. Watching helicopters fly far overhead, they hoped the helipads would catch someone’s attention. To be sure, they built two more.

On Tuesday at 8 a.m., the camp awoke to the loud whirring of rotors. Just hours earlier, the group had developed a flight plan — a crude list of who should have priority if and when a helicopter arrived.

“We had seen a few helicopters high above,” said Eric. “But when we saw the helicopter coming in low, the tears started streaming down our faces.” That morning, however, the helicopter was committed to the rescue of one group, and one group only: mere minutes on the ground, it loaded up the five trapped Japanese citizens and their guide, and took off.

One day later, the Americans would suffer the same cycle of excitement and loss as a helicopter sent for stranded Israelis would leave the remaining 27 behind. With tensions frayed, members sent a renewed barrage of satellite-routed messages — to friends, family and the forceful. In concert, but unknown to them at the time, a campaign on social media and between family and consular staff had raised hopes that a rescue might be imminent.

At 10:30 on Thursday morning, a nine-passenger helicopter cut through the fog in Kathmandu Valley. At the helm, a Nepalese pilot, with two members of the U.S. Special Forces in tow. Climbing out of the valley, and up in elevation, the skies cleared, revealing the brilliant blues and lush greens that have made this part of Nepal so popular with the adventurous from all corners of the world. Della, Eric and Corey had been up since dawn when they heard the helicopter, flying low, up the valley and toward their camp. When the runners touched down, they finally heard the words they had longed for: “Americans first, but we’ll make sure we get everyone out.” Four helicopter trips later, in just under an hour, all 27 were rescued.

On Thursday evening, in the U.S. embassy’s commissary, a hall with high ceilings bracketed by glass windows, Corey, Eric and Della appeared equal parts relieved, excited and exhausted — the six days of worry presenting, sometimes unexpectedly, with startled laughs, nervous chatter or watery eyes.

Over dinner, their first in days, the trio worked through their last week together, often correcting each other’s accounts, and pausing to reflect on what the experience meant to them.

Their rescue flight took them to Dhunche, which now serves as a staging zone for the Nepalese military and more complicated air relief efforts. Once there, the three met with U.S. consular staff, one of whom mentioned a chance of returning to Kathmandu today. When the time came to board, though, there were five Americans for three spots — Corey, Eric and Della, and another couple. They flipped a coin and won.

“There are so many people we are thankful for, the people at home, the people here, the people at camp who banded together,” Eric reflects. “This could have been far worse.”

TIME Nepal

Why Rescuers Still Hold Out Hope for Survivors in Nepal’s Rubble

Pemba Tamang is carried on a stretcher after being rescued by Nepalese policemen and U.S. rescue workers from a building that collapsed five days ago in Kathmandu, Nepal on April 30, 2015.
Niranjan Shrestha—AP Pemba Tamang is carried on a stretcher after being rescued by Nepalese policemen and U.S. rescue workers from a building that collapsed five days ago in Kathmandu, Nepal on April 30, 2015.

If history is any measure, the ongoing rescue efforts in Nepal will continue to bear fruit

In the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday, the first 72 hours were the most critical for first responders to reach victims buried under the rubble. After that, experts say, the chances of survival, particularly for those with injuries, become slim.

But human beings have a remarkable capacity for clinging to life even in the direst of circumstances. Proof of that was evident Thursday, five days after the quake, when rescuers pulled a dazed 18-year-old teenager from the rubble in Kathmandu, who was unharmed enough to thank his savior when they first made contact.

“There are always miracles,” Mike Davis, a team leader for the United States Agency for International Development Disaster and Relief Team in Nepal told TIME earlier this week. Past survival stories are as sensational as they are encouraging for rescuers:

In 1995, 19-year-old Park Sung Hyun was pulled from the rubble 16 days after a department store in Seoul collapsed, killing more than 500 others. Except for a scratch, she was uninjured. “I can’t believe that this is for real,” her brother told Yonhap Television at the time.

After the 2013 collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh—which represented the deadliest non-violence-related building collapse in history—emergency responders saved Reshma Begum after being buried for 17 days. An army seargent at the time said Begum had been breathing through a pipe inside the wreckage and was not seriously injured; Begum, a seamstress who had been working on the factory’s third floor, said she had survived off of biscuits in the bags of dead colleagues and rainwater that managed to reach her.

And in 2005, a 40-year-old woman was found alive in a tiny space in the kitchen of her home in Kashmir, which collapsed in an earthquake more than two months earlier. A doctor treating her afterward called it a miracle that she had survived, apparently off of fresh air and water that reached her and remaining food in the kitchen.

Experts say that survival can depend largely on the moments after the earthquake as structures come crashing down. “The ideal situation is you have become trapped and entombed but have some sort of oxygen supply from the outside world,” Julie Ryan, then a coordinator with the International Rescue Committee, told the BBC in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Access to water and food are also crucial; the average survival time without water ranges from three to five days. According to the BBC, the United Nations usually calls off search and rescue five to seven days after a disaster. But even when the last survivors are pulled out of the wreckage, the response operations for the impoverished nation will go on.

“Search and rescue is really the first thing,” says Garrett Ingoglia, the vice president for emergency response at AmeriCares, which is sending medical aid to Nepal. “But the recovery effort is going to take years.”

TIME Nepal

Facebook Raised More Than $10 Million in 2 Days For Nepal

Nepal Earthquake Survivor
Manish Swarup—AP Nepal policemen cordon off the area as they and US rescue workers prepare to pull out Pemba Tamang, a teenage boy from the rubble of a building five days after the earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Thursday, April 30, 2015. Crowds cheered Thursday as Tamang was pulled, dazed and dusty, from the wreckage of a seven-story Kathmandu building that collapsed around him five days ago when an enormous earthquake shook Nepal. (AP Photo / Manish Swarup)

The death toll from the earthquake is at almost 6,000

Facebook raised more than $10 million in two days for relief efforts in Nepal.

According to a post by Mark Zuckerberg, the social network gave people the option to support local relief networks in Nepal after the earthquake hit, and in two days they quickly topped $10 million. Zuckerberg said Facebook would contribute an extra $2 million.

“It is inspiring to see our community coming together to help people in their time of need,” Zuckerberg said in his post. “We’re grateful to be serving you, and for all your efforts to support those affected by the Nepal earthquake.”

Since a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal April 25, 5,800 people have been declared dead. Some estimates say the death toll could reach more than 10,000.

Read next: Witness the Aftermath of Nepal’s Devastating Earthquake

TIME world affairs

The Destruction in Nepal Is Sickening

buddhist-flags-nepal
Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

As an American, here’s what I’m doing to help

I was at my house not far from the center of Patan, a city right next to Kathmandu, when the shaking started. It was about noon on Saturday and my driver, Runjin, and I were talking about hanging some Tibetan flags in my bedroom.

As we both fell to the floor, sliding around, he grabbed my arm and kept trying to reassure me, “It’s OK, Olga Didi” (older sister). A heater on wheels with a propane tank came rolling toward us, and I kicked it back, slithering to get under my desk—my “go to” place in the event of an earthquake. The shaking stopped, and we went outside with Ram, my cook.

The earthquake happened four hours before a big early birthday party for me—I’ll turn 90 in June. We were expecting 600 guests, including many people who made long bus trips from other parts of Nepal.

My first thought was for the children who live in the J and K houses, the two children’s homes in Patan run by the Nepal Youth Foundation, which I founded in 1990. These 60 boys and girls range in age from 2 to 16; some of them are orphans or were abandoned by their parents, some were child beggars, and some are disabled. Thankfully, all the children survived the earthquake, along with the foundation staff and their families.

For 25 years, I’ve divided my time between Nepal and Sausalito, Calif. I first visited Nepal in 1984 when I was 60 and about to retire as a research attorney at the California Supreme Court. I was overwhelmed by the stunning scenery and friendliness of the people—and especially by the children I encountered. They had so few material possessions, yet they were the most joyful, funny, amiable little kids anywhere on earth. Their most fervent wish was to go to school someday.

Totally unexpectedly, I discovered a country and a cause to which I would devote the rest of my life. I formed the Nepal Youth Foundation in 1990; since then, the organization has provided education, health care, shelter, and freedom from servitude to more than 45,000 children.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, about 50 people took refuge at my house, including 19 girls who came to my home from West Nepal to perform their incredible local dances at the birthday party. These girls were once trapped in the Kamlari system—sold into domestic slavery by their desperately poor families. Since 2000, NYF has liberated over 12,000 of these girls and paid to educate them, giving their families piglets to compensate for lost earnings. Recently, the government agreed to cover these costs—but we continue to provide former Kamlari girls with training and mentoring. I was worried about the girls, but we thankfully managed to find them. They were quite traumatized, and some were crying. But within a few hours, they calmed down. They napped in the sun and felt safe—together and in an open space.

That night, the girls helped Ram to prepare the Nepali staple dinner of dal bhat and tarkari (rice, lentils and vegetables) for the big crowd. For that meal, Ram used cabbage from my garden. I’m worried that food and water may become a serious problem; our water filter operates on electricity. There has been no electricity since the quake, and the Internet connection is spotty.

There have been more than 80 aftershocks, some of them quite severe. Everyone who wasn’t injured in Kathmandu spent the afternoon outside—and hundreds of thousands of people slept outside all night.

My house has a large garden with a high wall around it. There was a crowd of people camped in the empty space on the other side of my wall, and every time the earth shook, a great shout went up.

Almost everyone at my house slept outdoors, including two families with newborn babies. The former Kamlari girls also slept outdoors on mats until it started to rain and they ran inside and spread out on the floor of my living and dining rooms. I told them that, as a California girl, I wake up two or three times a year in a shaking bed at my home in Sausalito. I just put the cover over my head and go back to sleep. They told me later that when the aftershocks began on Saturday, they thought about what I had said and went back to sleep.

The girls left on Sunday for the 14-hour bus ride back to Dang in West Nepal. That day, I wanted more than anything to see the kids, but CNN called for interviews, and by the time I finished with them, it was dark. The children have been camping out at the empty lot next to the J and K houses. I understand the little boys view this as an adventure, but I am sure many of them are shaken by the experience.

Some of the alumni, who are now college graduates, have returned to the J and K houses—not only because they view them as their homes, but also to help the “uncle” and “auntie” who supervise the kids.

I returned home to California on Wednesday night. The international airport is open, but (tragically) the airport for domestic flights is not operational. The devastation in rural areas, where 80 percent of Nepalis live, is overwhelming and there is no way to get relief to most of them.

I am so sad to be leaving at a time like this, when so many people I care for are suffering. But I think I will be more useful working from California to raise money for the relief effort.

Because NYF is on the ground, we know where the greatest needs are in Nepal right now. The hospitals are jam-packed with the injured and lacking in beds, medical equipment, food, and medicine. On Monday, NYF bought 200 mattresses, and bedding and delivered them to one of Nepal’s main government hospitals. We also bought $30,000 worth of surgical supplies for the most advanced and efficient public hospital in Nepal.

NYF has also established a shelter for patients who are ready to be discharged from the hospital but have no place to go because their homes are destroyed, there is no transport, and their relatives can’t come for them. Doctors are desperate to discharge these patients because seriously injured people are lying in the corridors or outside, waiting for a hospital bed.

We have a beautiful facility we constructed right outside Kathmandu a few years ago to rehabilitate malnourished children. We began moving discharged patients into it on Tuesday afternoon. Some of these patients will need ongoing care, so 40 former bonded girls we are training as health assistants are coming down from Northern Nepal to work in the facility.

Looking ahead, we already know there be a massive demand for skilled construction workers. NYF has experience in job training and construction projects, and we plan to train 1,000 people in construction skills that incorporate seismic safety, mostly in villages where the majority of the destruction occurred. In addition to allowing them to earn a livelihood, this will enable people to rebuild their own homes. NYF will provide them with supplementary funds to purchase steel rods and concrete so that they can replace their mud homes with solid structures.

Hundreds of schools have been flattened. Using our experience in building more than 100 schools or schoolrooms, NYF also plans to rebuild 50 of these devastated structures so that children can resume their education.

We’re certainly not the only group that has sprung into action to help in the aftermath of this catastrophic earthquake, but we are trying to address the most pressing needs. The scenes of destruction all around Nepal are sickening. My heart goes out to so many people here who have lost so much. Now we have to do what we can to help them recover from this devastation.

Olga Murray is the founder of the Nepal Youth Foundation, which has provided education, health care, shelter, and freedom from servitude to more than 45,000 children. To donate to NYF’s relief efforts, visit http://www.nepalyouthfoundation.org/nepal-earthquake-disaster-relief-fund/. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Nepal

Nepal Quake Death Toll May Reach 15,000, Army Chief Says

Earthquake survivor Pema Lama, 15, is rescued by the Armed Police Force from the collapsed Hilton Hotel, the result of an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal on April 30, 2015.
Adnan Abidi—Reuters Earthquake survivor Pema Lama, 15, is rescued by the Armed Police Force from the collapsed Hilton Hotel, the result of an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal on April 30, 2015.

The official death toll currently stands at 5,800

Kathmandu, Nepal — Up to 15,000 people may have died in the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal over the weekend, the country’s army chief told NBC News in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

The official death toll from Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake quake currently stands at 5,800.

“Our estimates are not looking good. We are thinking that 10,000 to 15,000 may be killed,” said Gen. Gaurav Rana, who is leading the nationwide rescue effort.

Rana acknowledged that massive temblor left officials struggling to cope with the aftermath — including the risk of disease and growing public…

Read the rest from our partners at NBC News

TIME Behind the Photos

Witness the Aftermath of Nepal’s Devastating Earthquake

Photographer Adam Ferguson was on assignment for TIME

Freelance photographer Adam Ferguson was on assignment in New Delhi when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the central region of Nepal. “The building started to shake, and I immediately looked at the news to see how the situation was developing,” he says.

Using his connections with an Indian travel agency, Ferguson was able to secure a seat on one of the last flights to Kathmandu, where he began to photograph the aftermath for TIME. “I flew in on Sunday morning,” he says. “I went straight down to the historic center, which had been devastated. It was a pile of rubble.”

While most of the city only suffered structural damages – “the majority of Kathmandu is still standing, with only the buildings that weren’t constructed properly having fallen over,” he says – the UNESCO sites and historical structures were the hardest hit.

“I spent the first moving around the city, photographing for TIME the destruction and looking for rescue teams,” says Ferguson. By nightfall, as aftershocks continued to hit the region, he spent part of the night sleeping in an office inside a two-story building. With each aftershock, he’d rush outside in the rain. “A lot of people have been staying in parks and open spaces,” he says. And this is not expected to change any time soon: “An extraordinary number of buildings that haven’t fallen over have suffered constructional damage, so a huge amount of people won’t be able to move back in for weeks.”

Adam Ferguson is an Australian freelance photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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