Aid reaches epicenter as Nepal toll tops 5,000


By Katy Daigle, AP

GUMDA, Nepal–Hands pressed together in supplication, the Nepalese women pleaded for food, shelter and anything else the helicopter might have brought on an in-and-out run Wednesday to this smashed mountain village near the epicenter of last weekend’s mammoth earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people.

Unlike in Nepal’s capital, where most buildings were spared complete collapse, the tiny hamlets clinging to the remote mountainsides of Gorkha District have been ravaged. Entire clusters of homes were reduced to piles of stone and splintered wood. Orange plastic tarps used for shelter now dot the cliff sides and terraced rice paddies carved into the land.

��We are hungry,�� cried a woman who gave her name only as Deumaya, gesturing toward her stomach and opening her mouth to emphasize her desperation. Another woman, Ramayana, her eyes hollow and haunted, repeated the plea: ��Hungry! We are hungry!��

But food is not the only necessity in short supply out here beyond the reaches of paved roads, electricity poles and other benefits of the modern world. These days, even water is scarce. Communication is a challenge. And modern medical care is a luxury many have never received.

As the helicopter landed Wednesday with 40-kilogram (90-pound) sacks of rice, wind and rain whipped across the crest of the mountain. Seeing the conditions, the U.N. World Food Program’s Geoff Pinnock shouted over the roar of the propellers, ��the next shipment has to be plastic sheets. These people need shelter more than they need food.��

About 200 villagers huddled under a few umbrellas and plastic tarps as they waited to receive the aid, some with runny noses and chattering teeth. With the erratic Himalayan weather, aid workers are worried about keeping people warm, fed and safe.

Nepalese police said Wednesday the death toll from the quake had reached 5,027. Another 18 were killed on the slopes of Mount Everest, while 61 died in neighboring India, and China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported 25 dead in Tibet.