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People free a man from the rubble of a destroyed building following a massive earthquake that struck Nepal early on Saturday. (Photograph: Narendra Shrestha/EPA)

Huge Earthquake Kills Many Hundreds in Nepal; Sparks Massive Mt. Everest Avalanche

Estimated numbers of dead and wounded continue to rise after massive quake hits Himalayan region.

Common Dreams staff

A powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck central Nepal overnight has devastated populated areas across the Himayalan region, causing buildings to crumble and killing hundreds, if not thousands, of people on Saturday.

A spokesperson for Nepal’s Home Ministry, Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, told the New York Times early on Saturday morning that the preliminary death toll stood at 686, nearly all in the valley around Katmandu, and that thousands more had been injured.

According to the Guardian, which is offering live updates on the situation, the number of people across four countries who have died is well above 1,000 and this number is expected to rise. In addition to the highest numbers in Nepal, several deaths and injuries related to the quake were reported in Tibet, India, and further to the east in Bangladesh.

The initial quake, originally calculated by the USGS as 7.8 on the Richter scale but subsequently adjusted to 7.9, occurred just after midnight (GMT) with the epicenter near the city of Lamjung, not far from the capital of Katamandu, where heavy damage and a high number of casualties is being reported. A large aftershock, approximately 30 minutes later, came in at 6.6 magnitude.

The tremors also unleashed a severe avalanche on Mt. Everest, among world's tallest and most famous mountains, which claimed additional lives.

Reuters reports:

The worst quake to hit the impoverished Himalayan nation in 81 years also caused damage in neighboring Indian states and Bangladesh. The quake was shallow, intensifying the amount of energy released over a relatively small area.

A police spokesman said the death toll had reached 449 in Nepal according to an initial estimate, most from the Kathmandu Valley. There was little information coming from the outlying areas of the mountainous country and helicopters were circling overheard to get a better sense of the damage.

"Hundreds of people are feared dead and there are reports of widespread damage to property. The devastation is not confined to some areas of Nepal. Almost the entire country has been hit," said Krishna Prasad Dhakal, deputy chief of mission at Nepal’s Embassy in New Delhi.

The Associated Press provided this early raw footage from impacted areas:

Regarding the avalancy on Mt. Everest, AP reports:

An avalanche swept the face of Mount Everest after the massive earthquake struck Nepal on Saturday, killing at least eight people and leaving an unknown number missing and injured near the mountain's most dangerous spot, an official said.

The avalanche struck between the Khumbu Icefall, a notoriously treacherous rugged area of collapsed ice and snow, and the base camp where most climbing expeditions are, said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

An official with Nepal's mountaineering department, Gyanendra Shretha, said the bodies of eight people had been recovered and an unknown number remain missing or injured.

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