The Gorkha Earthquake

Thousands have died, a million more need help

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The earthquake that destroyed Nepal. What were the causes for this tragedy?

Nepal is particularly prone to earthquakes. It sits on the boundary of two massive tectonic plates – the Indo-Australian and Asian plates. It is the collision of these plates that has produced the Himalaya mountains, and with them, earthquakes.

They are but one reminder of the hazards faced by the communities that live in these mountains. Other ongoing hazards include floods and monsoonal landslides, as exemplified by the Kedarnath disaster of 2013 which killed more than 5,000 people.

Earthquakes occur when strain builds up in Earth’s crust until it gives way, usually along old fault lines. In this case the strain is built by the collision or convergence of two plates.


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Did you know that the earthquake was the country's deadliest after 81 years?

Rescue Team Face Difficulties

European, Asian and North American governments sent emergency response teams to Nepal as the country struggles to cope with the disaster. However, blocked roads, collapsed buildings, and continuing aftershocks pose major setbacks for emergency crews searching for survivors in the capital and cut-off rural areas.

"Communication is down in many areas. Widespread destruction, rubble and landslides are preventing access to provide aid in many villages," the Australian Red Cross said in a statement.

"Tragically, more bodies are being pulled from collapsed buildings every hour," the statement added. Oxfam reportedly told the AFP that morgues were reaching capacity, adding that the situation could take a turn for the worse as medical supplies dwindle.

"Communication systems are congested and hospitals are crowded and are running out of room for storing dead bodies," Oxfam's Australia chief executive Helen Szoke told AFP.

In hospitals, the lack of resources is especially acute. Medical personnel are responsible for the difficult process of triage, limiting their precious time and resources to those who can be helped. Basic items -- such as clean water and gauze to prevent wound infections, plaster to splint broken bones, and pain medicine to ease the suffering of the dying -- are in short supply.

Even when resources are available, disaster responders are challenged by lack of infrastructure. The airports are running and many countries have sent supplies. However, the feeder roads to distribute these donated goods are covered with debris. Nepal lacks the equipment and personnel to clear them quickly.


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Caught in a earthquake? Here's what you should do:

  • Stay calm! If you're indoors, stay inside. If you're outside, stay outside.
  • If you're indoors, stand against a wall near the center of the building, stand in a doorway, or crawl under heavy furniture (a desk or table). Stay away from windows and outside doors.
  • If you're outdoors, stay in the open away from power lines or anything that might fall. Stay away from buildings (stuff might fall off the building or the building could fall on you).
  • Don't use matches, candles, or any flame. Broken gas lines and fire don't mix.
  • If you're in a car, stop the car and stay inside the car until the earthquake stops.
  • Don't use elevators (they'll probably get stuck anyway).


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And after a quake?


  • When the shaking stops, look around to make sure it is safe to move. Then exit the building.
  • Help injured or trapped persons. Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance such as infants, the elderly and people with access and functional needs. Give first aid where appropriate. Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
  • Call for help.
  • Look for and extinguish small fires. Fire is the most common hazard after an earthquake.
  • Be aware of possible tsunamis if you live in coastal areas. These are also known as seismic sea waves. When local authorities issue a tsunami warning, assume that a series of dangerous waves is on the way. Stay away from the beach.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home had been damaged and is no longer safe.
  • Stay away unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.


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-by Clerissa Lewis-