With their bare hands, rescue workers in Nepal started sifting through the debris of crumbling homes on Saturday in an attempt to find survivors after the nation’s largest earthquake in eight years claimed 157 lives and rocked structures as far away as New Delhi.
With a magnitude of 6.4, the earthquake rocked the Jajarkot region in the western part of the Himalayan nation on Friday at 11:47 p.m. (1802 GMT), according to Nepal’s National Seismological Centre. It was measured at 5.7 by the German Research Center for Geosciences and 5.6 by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Officials fear the death toll could rise as first responders had reached the hilly area near the epicentre, some 500 km (300 miles) west of the capital Kathmandu, only early on Saturday and began searching for survivors.
“The number of injured could be in the hundreds and the deaths could go up as well,” Jajarkot district official Harish Chandra Sharma told Reuters by phone.
Although the quake’s magnitude was not severe, the damage and the death toll are high due to the poor quality of construction in the area and because it struck while people slept, officials said.
Rescue work was expected to be slow as emergency teams must first clear roads blocked by landslides in many places, they said, adding that helicopters and small planes have been asked to be ready to join the effort.
The quake is the deadliest since 2015 when about 9,000 people were killed in two earthquakes. Whole towns, centuries-old temples and other historic sites were reduced to rubble then, with more than a million houses destroyed, at a cost to the economy of $6 billion.