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More than 2,200 confirmed dead in Nepal earthquake

More than 2,200 confirmed dead in Nepal earthquake

By BINAJ GURUBACHARYA and KATY DAIGLE

Sunday, making buildings sway and sending panicked Kathmandu residents running into the streets a day after a massive earthquake left more than 2,200 people dead.

The cawing of crows mixed with terrified screams as the magnitude 6.7 aftershock pummeled the capital city early Sunday afternoon. It came as planeloads of supplies, doctors and relief workers from neighboring countries began arriving in this poor Himalayan nation.

“The aftershocks keep coming … so people don’t know what to expect,” said Sanjay Karki, Nepal country head for global aid agency Mercy Corps. “All the open spaces in Kathmandu are packed with people who are camping outdoors. When the aftershocks come you cannot imagine the fear. You can hear women and children crying.”

Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake spread horror from Kathmandu to small villages and to the slopes of Mount Everest, triggering an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts. At least 17 people died there and 61 were injured.

The earthquake centered outside Kathmandu, the capital, was the worst to hit the South Asian nation in over 80 years. It destroyed swaths of the oldest neighborhoods of Kathmandu, and was strong enough to be felt all across parts of India, Bangladesh, China’s region of Tibet and Pakistan. By Sunday afternoon, authorities said at least 2,169 people had died in Nepal alone, with 61 more deaths in India and a few in other neighboring countries.

At least 721 of them died in Kathmandu alone, and the number of injured nationwide was upward of 5,000. With search and rescue efforts far from over, it was unclear how much the death toll would rise.But outside of the oldest neighborhoods, many in Kathmandu were surprised by how few modern structures — the city is largely a collection of small, poorly constructed brick apartment buildings — collapsed in the quake. While aid workers cautioned that many buildings could have sustained serious structural damage, it was also clear that the death toll would have been far higher had more buildings caved in.

On a flight into Kathmandu on Sunday morning, an AP correspondent was unable to spot any collapsed buildings.

Aid workers also warned that the situation could be far worse near the epicenter. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered near Lamjung, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu, in the Gorkha district.

Roads to that area were blocked by landslides, hindering rescue teams, said chief district official Prakash Subedi. Teams were trekking through mountain trails to reach remote villages, and helicopters would also be deployed, he said by telephone.

The aid group World Vision said in a statement that remote mountain communities, including in Gorkha, were totally unprepared for the level of destruction caused by the earthquake.

Villages near the epicenter “are literally perched on the sides of large mountain faces and are made from simple stone and rock construction. Many of these villages are only accessible by 4WD and then foot, with some villages hours and even entire days’ walks away from main roads at the best of times,” the group’s local staff member, Matt Darvas, said in the statement.

He said he was hearing that many of the villages may have been completely buried by rock falls.

“It will likely be helicopter access only for these remote villages,” he said.

Nepal’s worst recorded earthquake in 1934 measured 8.0 and all but destroyed the cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan.

With people fearing more quakes, tens of thousands of Nepalese spent Saturday night outside under chilly skies, or in cars and public buses. They were jolted awake by strong aftershocks early Sunday.”There were at least three big quakes at night and early morning. How can we feel safe? This is never-ending and everyone is scared and worried,” said Kathmandu resident Sundar Sah. “I hardly got much sleep. I was waking up every few hours and glad that I was alive.”

As day broke, rescuers aided by international teams set out to dig through rubble of buildings — concrete slabs, bricks, iron beams, wood — to look for survivors.

In the Kalanki neighborhood of Kathmandu, police rescuers finally extricated a man lying under a dead person, both of them buried beneath a pile of concrete slabs and iron beams. Before his rescue, his family members stood nearby, crying and praying. Police said the man’s legs and hips were totally crushed.

Hundreds of people in Kalanki gathered around the collapsed Lumbini Guest House, once a three-story budget hotel and restaurant frequented by Nepalese. They watched with fear and anticipation as a single backhoe dug into the rubble.

Police officer RP Dhamala, who was coordinating the rescue efforts, said they had already pulled out 12 people alive and six dead. He said rescuers were still searching for about 20 people believed to be trapped, but had heard no cries, taps or noises for a while.Most areas were without power and water.

The United Nations said hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley were overcrowded, and running out of emergency supplies and space to store corpses. Plumes of smoke, meanwhile, rose above the capital as friends, relatives and others gathered by the river to quickly cremate loved ones’ remains.

Most shops in Kathmandu were shut; only fruit vendors and pharmacies seemed to be doing business. Karki, of Mercy Corps, said there were long lines outside pharmacies because people fear they will run out of medicine.

Fruit seller Shyam Jaiswal vowed not to raise prices, though stocks were fast running out.

“This is all we will have for awhile. We don’t expect any more shipments for at least a week. More people are coming now. They cannot cook so they need to buy something they can eat raw. We try to help everyone. But we are not raising prices. That would be illegal, immoral profit. That would be wrong,” Jaiswal said.

The quake will likely put a huge strain on the resources of this impoverished country best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world. The economy of Nepal, a nation of 27.8 million people, relies heavily on tourism, principally trekking and Himalayan mountain climbing.

With Kathmandu airport reopened, the first aid flights began delivering aid supplies. The first to respond were Nepal’s neighbors — India, China and Pakistan, all of which have been jockeying for influence over the landlocked nation. Still, Nepal remains closest to India with which it shares deep political, cultural and religious ties.

Indian air force planes landed Sunday with 43 tons of relief material, including tents and food, and nearly 200 rescuers, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said. The planes were returning to New Delhi with Indian nationals stranded in Kathmandu. More aid flights were planned for Sunday.

India suffered its own losses from the quake, with at least 61 people killed there and dozens injured. Sunday’s aftershock was also widely felt in the country, and local news reports said metro trains in New Delhi and Kolkata were briefly shut down when the shaking started.

A 62-member Chinese search and rescue team also arrived Sunday. Other countries sending support Sunday included the United Arab Emirates, Germany and France.

An elderly injured woman is taken home through earthquake debris after treatment.

Pakistan prepared to send four C-130 aircraft, carrying a 30-bed temporary hospital comprising army doctors, surgeons and specialists. An urban search and rescue team was also sent with ground-penetrating radars, concrete cutters and sniffing dogs. Pakistan was also sending 2,000 ready-to-eat meal packs, water bottles, medicines, 200 tents, 600 blankets and other necessary items.

When the earth first shook, residents fled homes and buildings in panic as walls tumbled, trees swayed, power lines came crashing down and large cracks opened up on streets. After the chaos of Saturday — when little organized rescue and relief was seen — there was more order on Sunday as rescue teams fanned out across the city.

Workers were sending out tents and relief goods in trucks and helicopters, said disaster management official Rameshwar Dangal. He said government and private schools have been turned into shelters.

Mukesh Kafle, the head of the Nepal Electricity Authority, said power has been restored fully to main government offices, the airport and hospitals.

Among the destroyed buildings in Kathmandu was the nine-story Dharahara Tower, a Kathmandu landmark built by Nepal’s royal rulers as a watchtower in the 1800s and a UNESCO-recognized historical monument. It was reduced to rubble and there were reports of people trapped underneath.

The Kathmandu Valley is listed as a World Heritage site. The Buddhist stupas, public squares and Hindu temples are some of the most well-known sites in Kathmandu, and now some of the most deeply mourned.

The head of the U.N. cultural agency, Irina Bokova, said in a statement that UNESCO was ready to help Nepal rebuild from “extensive damage, including to historic monuments and buildings of the Kathmandu Valley.”

Nepali journalist and author Shiwani Neupane tweeted: “The sadness is sinking in. We have lost our temples, our history, the places we grew up.”

Lufthansa knew of co-pilot’s previous ‘severe depression’ in 2009

Lufthansa knew of co-pilot’s previous ‘severe depression’ in 2009

The co-pilot who crashed Flight 9525 into a French mountainside last week had informed the German carrier Lufthansa in 2009 about a “previous episode of severe depression,” the airline said on Tuesday, raising fresh questions about the series of decisions that allowed Andreas Lubitz to stay in the skies.

The admission that the company knew at least some of the history of Lubitz’s mental illness came after the company’s chief executive, Carsten Spohr, said publicly last week that Lufthansa — parent of the budget airline Germanwings for which Lubitz worked — had no previous knowledge of his medical history.

In a statement Tuesday, however, the carrier said it wanted to issue a “swift and seamless clarification.” In 2009, Lubitz had taken several months off during his training to become a pilot. When he resumed the program, Lufthansa said, he provided the airline “medical documents” that noted his bout of severe depression.

The company said it had forwarded those documents to prosecutors who are now handling the crash as a homicide case.

Under European aviation law, pilots with active and untreated cases of depression are prevented from flying. But if deemed medically cured, there may have been no legal impediment for Lubitz to continue his training and obtain his license, experts say.

However, pilots who have attempted “a single self-destructive act” — such as suicide — are legally barred from commercial flying. Also, pilots who are taking psychotropic medications — such as popular antidepressants — as part of their therapy, for instance, have some limitations, including a stipulation that they not be alone in the cockpit.

German prosecutors said Monday that Lubitz had suffered from “suicidal tendencies” for which he was treated over an extended period. The prosecutors said that the treatment occurred before he was issued a pilot’s license and that they had found no indications that he was recently suicidal.

But Germany authorities have said that he had been issued multiple doctors’ notes judging him unfit to work, including one covering the day of the plane crash. At least one of the notes was found torn up in his apartment.

The system depends on employees reporting their own medical conditions to their employers, and Lufthansa has said that it was not aware of the recent medical problems.

An official familiar with the investigation said Tuesday that authorities were not examining the Lufthansa Group for any negligence. Lufthansa provided investigators with information about Lubitz’s airline medical examinations and copies of previous correspondence with the airline, the official said. But since the depressive episode occurred in 2009, the official said that investigators did not believe Lufthansa was immediately culpable.

During Lubitz’s employment with Germanwings, starting in 2013, his medical certificates and examinations declared him flightworthy.

A Lufthansa spokeswoman said that the company had graduated him from its rigorous flight school, despite the previous depressive episode, because following medical checks “he was perceived to be healed.”

“At any time he was flying, he was declared fit to fly,” the spokeswoman said, who spoke on the condition that her name not be used, a German custom.

When asked whether Lufthansa had known about any subsequent psychological condition, she said: “Not that we are aware of.”

Germany’s medical examinations for pilots give a yes-or-no answer to employers about whether aviators are ready to fly, offering no space for additional information or caveats. Officials familiar with the investigation have said that one working theory is that Lubitz was concerned about losing his medical certificate when it came up for renewal later this year.

Michael Müller, chief executive of ATTC, a company that helps prepare pilot candidates for entering flight schools, including Lufthansa’s, defended the carrier’s track record. He said he was aware of at least one instance, for example, when the company had pulled a pilot from the cockpit after his ex-wife had committed suicide.

“I’m afraid it will never be possible to prevent these things from happening entirely,” he said. “In my view, Lufthansa did not fail. When a doctor says someone is healthy and he is certifying this, then he is allowed to fly. In a pilot’s career, it can happen that you get ill, also psychologically. You can’t simply say, ‘We’ll let him go.’ ”

The Lufthansa Group has already offered $53,635 to families of every victim to cover immediate living expenses. The new revelation was likely to open the airline to far greater damages. A Lufthansa spokesman said Tuesday that its insurer, Allianz, had set aside $300 million to pay for liability claims from victims’ families.

French President François Hollande visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday, where the two discussed the ongoing investigation into the catastrophe alongside a range of other issues.

Hollande called for bolstering the checks on pilots over European skies, saying that he was working toward “ensuring that we can strengthen our safety rules for piloting these aircraft.”

He said that more than 800 people were laboring at the mountain crash site to push the investigation forward as quickly as possible.

Separately, a French aviation investigation agency said Tuesday that it had begun a study of “systemic weaknesses” that may have led to the crash. The French Bureau of Investigations and Analyses for Civil Aviation Security said it would focus on the procedures used “to detect psychological profiles,” as well as look at cockpit safety rules.

German investigators offered few new details about the status of their inquiry on Tuesday. One official familiar with the investigation said that the initial questioning of Lubitz’s family and girlfriend had been completed but that investigators remained in contact with them as new issues arose.

The official said that neither Lubitz’s parents nor his girlfriend were aware of any suicidal impulses ahead of the plane crash.

Birnbaum reported from Düsseldorf.