KATHMANDU – Three people were pulled alive from the rubble of their home eight days after Nepal’s devastating earthquake, as a supply logjam threatened to hamper disaster relief efforts bolstered by the arrival of U.S. aircraft and troops.
The small-scale rescue, announced on Sunday by a home ministry official, brought fresh hope to a badly-hit district northeast of the capital Kathmandu, but about 50 bodies were also discovered on a northern trekking route obliterated by an avalanche that the April 25 quake triggered.
That increased the death toll to 7,059, and the figure was likely to rise further as an entire village was carried away by the same avalanche and scores more people — both locals and foreign trekkers — were missing, officials said.
U.S. military aircraft and personnel were due to begin helping ferry relief supplies to stricken areas outside the capital, a U.S. Marines spokeswoman said, after arriving in Nepal on Sunday, a day later than expected.
Meanwhile United Nations Resident Representative Jamie McGoldrick said the government needed to loosen its normal customs restrictions, as criticism mounted over a pileup of aid at Kathmandu airport, Nepal’s only international gateway.
Ganga Sagar Pant, the head of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, said the avalanche had wiped out the village of Langtang.
“All that is left is scattered belongings like bags and coats, all the houses have been thrown down the mountain,” he said. “There is nothing left. I don’t think anyone can survive that.”
The village in the northern district of Rasuwa was on a popular trekking route and had 55 guesthouses. It was not clear how many people were there at the time of the avalanche.
None of the recovered bodies has been identified, said Pravin Pokharel, deputy district superintendent of police. Pokharel, who led the police team, said the bodies were pulled out from under snow and ice on Saturday and rescuers were to return to the remote area on Sunday.
At least 200 villagers and trekkers were still missing in Langtang, said Uddhav Bhattarai, the district’s senior bureaucrat. “We had not been able to reach the area earlier because of rains and cloudy weather,” he said by telephone.
The U.S. military contingent comprised eight aircraft, including one Huey and two C-130s, and between 100 and 120 personnel, Marines spokeswoman Capt. Cassandra Gesecki said.
The Huey was expected to leave on an assessment mission early on Monday, and it was up to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) when the other aircraft would be deployed.
“They’re the ones telling us what to take and where,” she said.
U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy warned about the supply bottlenecks, saying: “What you don’t want to do is build up a mountain of supplies” that block space for planes or more aid.
On Sunday, the government restricted the landing of large cargo aircraft at the airport to limit damage to the stressed runway, said a U.N. official who declined to be named.
The U.N.’s McGoldrick said all relief material should get a blanket exemption from checks on arrival. “They should not be using peacetime customs methodology,” he said.
But the government, complaining it had received unneeded supplies such as tuna and mayonnaise, said its customs agents had to check all emergency shipments coming in from overseas.
With many Nepalis sleeping in the open since the quake, afraid of returning to their homes because of powerful aftershocks, the government lifted import taxes on tarpaulins and tents on Friday.
According to the United Nations, 600,000 houses have been destroyed or damaged, and tents have been pitched in Kathmandu’s main sports stadium and on its golf course.
Government officials have said efforts to step up the pace of delivery of relief material to remote areas were also frustrated by a shortage of supply trucks and drivers, many of whom had returned to their villages to help their families.
The United Nations said 8 million of Nepal’s 28 million people were affected, with at least 2 million needing tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.