How many more victims of the tragedy remained to be discovered was unclear, though Nepalese authorities estimated that the number of dead could surpass 8,000 and said the tally of injured stood at more than 7,500.
Forty-eight hours after the huge temblor, rescue and relief workers had yet to reach numerous remote mountain villages. Reports trickling in from some hamlets suggested that in some areas, 70% or more of the homes had been reduced to rubble.
Schools remained closed, most businesses were shuttered, banks were not open, and ATMs lacked electricity to dispense cash. Long lines of motorcycles and cars formed at gas stations that had fuel.
Nepal is prone to earthquakes but Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat acknowledged that the government wasn’t prepared to respond to a disaster of this scale.
“Our system wasn’t prepared to fix a problem of this magnitude, but the government is doing the best it can with the resources on our disposal,” Mahat told state-run Radio Nepal. “All our helicopters are occupied with the rescue, so it is difficult to fly the relief materials to remote areas.”
Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudel said at a news conference that Nepal urgently needs tents, medical teams specializing in orthopedics and collapsed-structure rescue-and-search teams.
Minister of Information Minendra Rijal said that 308 people had been rescued by helicopters, and that authorities were trying to send more helicopters into remote areas.
Sanjeev Bikram Rana, executive director of the Katmandu Water Supply Management Board, said the entire Katmandu Valley was reeling under drinking water shortages because of power cuts and severe damage to pipes.
“We are now working with private water tankers to mobilize our resources in providing safe drinking water to people who have been taking refuge in the open areas around the valley,” he said.
By late Monday, the death toll in Nepal stood at 4,264, according to the country’s Ministry of Home Affairs.
Four Americans were reported to be among at least 17 people killed when an avalanche triggered by the earthquake roared through a base camp used by climbers preparing to scale Mt. Everest. The State Department on Monday confirmed the identities of two of them, Thomas Taplin and Vinh Truong.
At least 69 people were reported killed in India and 25 in China’s Tibet region.
Uvad Prashad Timalsina, the top official for the Gorkha district near the epicenter of the quake, told the Associated Press that 223 people in his area were confirmed dead and that people were not getting adequate food or shelter from the government. He expected the toll to rise as thousands were injured.
Although aid workers are able to reach the district, some remote villages are accessible only by foot and landslides have blocked the way, said Sanjay Karki, the Nepal country director for Portland, Ore.-based Mercy Corps.
“Some you need to walk two days, some hours to get to,” he said. “It’s high hills, with very difficult geographical terrain.”
Nepal’s only international airport remained jammed with tourists and Nepalese trying to leave the country, including Americans. One traveler stranded there for two nights said airlines were providing them with little food or water, lavatories were backed up and conditions inside the dingy terminal resembled “a refugee camp.”
Government authorities said nearly all of the 100,000-strong army and police officers were involved in rescue and relief operations. Rescue workers and medical teams from at least a dozen countries were assisting them.
In Katmandu, thousands of people whose homes were destroyed or damaged — or who were simply too afraid to return home amid continuing aftershocks — camped out at Tundhikel, a wide expanse of green in the center of the capital. Others had erected canopies along sidewalks or set up tarpaulins in circles to shade themselves from the intense heat and sporadic rainfall.
Soldiers were distributing drinking water to long lines of evacuees in Tundhikel, as families sat in loose circles on blankets, chatting and selling snacks.
Prashant Singh, 15, dressed in a dirt-caked soccer jersey, said his family relocated to the park Saturday evening after fears of aftershocks spread through his housing complex in the city center.
“I was just flipping through TV when the first quake came,” Singh said. “The entire room started to move side to side, so I ran under the door frame to wait for it to end, as I learned from one of my teachers at school. My mother said we needed to leave because it wasn’t safe.”
Government authorities said they were worried about rumors that a bigger earthquake was on the way. Overnight, it seemed as if everyone in Katmandu had become an amateur seismologist, offering their predictions about when the ground would start to shake next.
Jebin Gautam, a 24-year-old employee at a business consulting firm, was walking through Tundhikel on Monday morning looking for Westerners who might be able to help him reach his sister in Chicago to let her know their parents were safe.
Phone lines were down throughout the city, cellphone service was spotty and Internet access remained limited.
Gautam worried that further aftershocks could push the city into a “danger zone,” given its aging .
“If you look around you,” he said, pointing to a series of small, square buildings, “this city was not designed to withstand earthquakes. That’s why everyone is in Tundhikel now. They’re afraid the next quake will be the one that takes their house down.”
Cremations of victims continued along the banks of the Bagmati River, where dozens of pyres burned Monday, filling the air above the Pashupati temple with smoke.
Many people in Katmandu were eager to get out of the city. Swarms crowded bus depots and buses packed with passengers lumbered out of town. Some had dozens of people and even motorscooters hoisted atop their roofs.
Ishwor Chalise, a 26-year-old English student, said he was eager to get out of Katmandu and go home to Nawalparasi, a five-hour drive even in normal times.
But bus tickets were in extremely short supply, and instead of the usual $4 fare, bus companies were asking $20 or $25. Even seats on the roof were priced at that level, he said.
“I would be lucky to get any ticket,” he said. “I would happily sit atop the bus for five hours. I want to be safe and be with my mother, father and brother. What I should do now, it’s a dilemma.”