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Nepal villagers cremate loved ones who perished in earthquake that shook its northwest, killing 157

Villagers take part in a cremation procession of people who died during an earthquake in Jajarkot, Nepal on Nov. 5, 2023.

Navesh Chitrakar | Reuters

Villagers in the mountains of northwest Nepal cremated the bodies of some who perished in an earthquake that shook the area Friday night. The strong tremblor killed 157 people and left thousands homeless.

The 13 bodies were carried on Sunday to the banks of the Bheri River and placed on pyres made of stacked wood. Priests chanted Hindu prayers while family members cried as they covered the bodies of loved ones with flowers before setting them on fire in a cremation ceremony.

All 13 were from Chiuri village in Jajarkot district, which authorities said was the epicenter of the quake, and where at least 105 people were confirmed dead. Another 52 were killed in the neighboring Rukum district, officials said. Some 184 people were injured.

Most of the houses in Jajarkot — usually made by stacking rocks and logs — either collapsed or were severely damaged by the sudden earthquake, while the few concrete houses in towns were also damaged. The majority of those killed were crushed by debris.

Thousands spent Saturday night in the bitter cold.

People used whatever they could find to set up shelter for the night, using plastic sheets and old clothes to keep them warm. Most people have been unable to retrieve their belongings from under the rubble.

Many were looking to the government for help.

“Our situation has gotten so worse that we do not even have anything left to eat. Whatever food we had is buried underneath the rubble of our fallen house,” Samkhana Bika, who had lost her home, said Sunday.

Her house at Chepare village had fallen. She sat around a fire near their fallen home to keep warm with her six family members.

“Someone else gave us some rice, a little oil and some salt out of which we made a stew last night and ate that,” she said.

Nepal’s government said it is trying to get aid to the affected areas.

A cabinet meeting held on Sunday announced that aid would be immediately transported. Minister Rekha Sharma told reporters that supplying food and setting up temporary shelters were the main focus while working on plans to reconstruct damaged houses.

As rescuers were scrambling to rush aid, operations were hampered by the fact that many of the mountainous villages could only be reached by foot. Roads were also blocked by landslides triggered by the earthquake. Soldiers could be seen trying to clear the blocked roads.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 and occurred at a depth of 11 miles (18 kilometers). Nepal’s National Earthquake Monitoring & Research Center confirmed the epicenter was in Jajarkot, which is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of the capital, Kathmandu.

At the regional hospital in the city of Nepalgunj, more than 100 beds were made available and teams of doctors stood by to help the injured.

“My arms are totally broken, I have injuries in my head and my back hurts but thankfully it is not fractured. It was hurt when I had bent down and had firewood fall on my back,” said Kunjan Pun on Sunday from a hospital bed where she is waiting for surgery.

Apart from rescue helicopters, small government and army planes able to land in the short mountain strips were also used to ferry the wounded to Nepalgunj.

The quake, which hit when many people were already asleep in their homes, was also felt in India’s capital, New Delhi, more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) away.

Earthquakes are common in mountainous Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015 killed some 9,000 people and damaged about 1 million structures.

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