A little more than two weeks after thousands died in a mammoth earthquake, Nepal got hit hard again on Tuesday — with another powerful tremor that has already left at least 36 dead, more than 1,100 injured and questions about what’s next for the already traumatized Asian nation.
The fact that Nepal just endured a similar horror, not to mention waves of aftershocks that followed, didn’t diminish from Tuesday’s damage or shock. Some buildings that were damaged earlier collapsed, while locals scrambled for their lives knowing full well Mother Nature’s might.
“For the first seconds, it was complete silence. By the fifth second, everybody started to scream,” said Marc Sarrado, a 41-year-old documentarian from Spain who was in Nepal’s Nuwakot Valley, about two hours northwest of Kathmandu, when the quake hit.
“It was really, really intense. Even when the shaking stopped, people were still screaming. They were completely panicked, because they knew exactly what it was.”
Tuesday’s magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck at a depth of about 15 kilometers (9 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. For comparison’s sake, the 7.8 quake on April 25 — which killed more than 8,000 people — was more than three times bigger and 5.6 times stronger, in terms of energy released, according to the agency.
So, yes, it could have been worse. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous.
Nepalese government information and communications ministry spokesman Minendra Rijal said that at least 36 people, some of them in Kathmandu and the Dolakha district, had died as of late Tuesday afternoon. More than 1,100 had been counted as injured at that point.
The carnage wasn’t confined to Nepal. Three more people died in a wall collapse in India’s Bihar state, which borders Nepal, said Sunil Kumar, a senior disaster management official in that Indian state.
Indian Defense Ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar tweeted that his country’s troops are involved in helping those injured, killed and otherwise impacted in Nepal, including flying some casualties from the village of Mrigu to Kathmandu by helicopter.
— ADG (M&C) DPR (@SpokespersonMoD) May 12, 2015
As bad as this latest nightmare has been, it’s not necessarily over. The fact such a big quake hit so soon after the one last month is proof that another one — perhaps bigger, perhaps smaller — could come at any time.
To drive home this point, residents in the region dealt with a number of powerful aftershocks, including one at magnitude 6.3, after the initial quake struck around midday.
‘People were very scared’ in Kathmandu
The epicenter of the new earthquake was about 45 miles (75 kilometers) east of Kathmandu, the Nepali capital where many buildings were destroyed in the earlier quake.
The bustling capital was once again plunged into panic as residents rushed into the streets.
“People are very scared and they don’t know what is going on,” said CNN iReporter Prashup Rajbhandari in Kathmandu. He said he thought the quake had cracked his house.
— Shiwani Neupane (@ShiwaniNeupane) May 12, 2015
Another resident of the capital, Mingma Sherpa, said he and his friends jumped out of his car when they felt the earth begin to tremble. They ran with crowds of other people desperately seeking open space in a congested area of Kathmandu where there are few.
Police urged people to stay in open areas and keep roads clear.
Jack Board, a reporter at Channel NewsAsia, filmed chaotic scenes at Kathmandu Airport of hundreds of people running from the building as the ground shook.
— Jack Board (@JackBoardCNA) May 12, 2015
But, despite the initial fury, that airport was operational by later in the afternoon.
Manesh Shrestha, a CNN producer, was with a group of people helping to clear debris in Sankhu, a town east of Kathmandu, when the new quake struck.
He said it caused three or four damaged houses nearby to start to collapse.
Sabin Shrestha, a social activist in a village on the outskirts of Kathmandu, said dozens of houses around him that had suffered cracks in the last earthquake came down.
In Sindupalchowk, a district northeast of the capital that was heavily hit by the previous quake, journalist Anil Thapa reported multiple landslides and fallen houses.
Area around Mount Everest rattled
Tuesday’s earthquake struck roughly 50 miles (85 kilometers) from Mount Everest, where the April quake set off deadly avalanches.
People in Lukla, a town that serves as a gateway to the Everest region, rushed to the airport so they could be in an open area as the earth shook again. Most of Lukla’s buildings are perched precariously on hilly ground.
The airport is reported to be in a risky setting because of the short runway that’s surrounded by mountains.
But on Tuesday, Chungba Sherpa was glad to be there.
“People are here because there is open space,” he said by telephone. “They are very scared.”
Many houses are damaged, he said, and the hospital in Lukla was tending to the injured, including four high school students from the village of Chaurikharka, which was already reeling from devastation in the April 25 disaster. The students were carried on stretchers on the half-hour walk uphill to Lukla. The only way to access Chaurikharka and other Sherpa villages is by foot.
Chungba Sherpa owns Khumbu Resort, a hotel for trekkers in Lukla. Normally at this time of year, every room is full. The hotel emptied after the April 25 quake. He said he feared the few remaining tourists would flee after the new quake.