Desperate survivors of an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people clashed with riot police in Nepal's capital on Wednesday (Apr 29), as the United Nations appealed for US$415 million for the devastated Himalayan nation.
Supplies of food and water are running thin and aftershocks have strained nerves in ruined Kathmandu, home to some 2.5 million before it was shattered by Saturday's 7.8-magnitude quake.
The death toll in Nepal from the massive weekend earthquake has risen to nearly 5,500, according to a new tally by disaster management officials. A total of 5,489 people are now known to have died in the 7.8-magnitude quake, according to an update from the National Emergency Operation Centre, while more than 100 others were killed in neighbouring India and China.
Desperate to leave, thousands of people gathered outside the main bus station after the government promised to lay on special services to far-flung rural areas. But when the buses failed to materialise, anger surged and scuffles broke out between the crowds and riot police who were sent to try to contain the situation near parliament.
Some protesters forced a truck carrying drinking water off the road and climbed on top of it, throwing the bottles to the crowd. "We've been left starving in the cold and the best this government can give us is this queue. Why are they so slow?" demanded Rajana as she lined up along with thousands of others for a bus to her home village.
"I keep hearing on the news that all governments and aid agencies are here, but where are they? Our government is totally absent. Forget shelter, they couldn't even give us water," said Rajana, who goes by one name.
Columns of riot police stood behind rolls of barbed wire as rioters armed with sticks surged into the street, attacking buses and other vehicles. At one point a young woman was pulled from her scooter and assaulted by an angry protester. Onlookers screamed at him to stop before riot police pulled him away.
Israel advised its nationals to leave Nepal for "health and security reasons".
Hundreds of thousands of people across the country settled down for a fifth night under tents. Their homes were either wrecked or were feared to be on the verge of collapse.
But with the number and scale of the aftershocks subsiding, some residents returned to salvage possessions from the ruins of their homes, grabbing everything from fridges to family chickens.
UN LAUNCHES URGENT APPEAL
"There have been some weaknesses in managing the relief operation," Communications Minister Minendra Rijal told Nepal's Kantipur Television, acknowledging the government had been overwhelmed by the devastation from the deadliest quake in Nepal since 1934.
"The disaster has been so huge and unprecedented that we have not been in a position to meet the expectations of the needy people," he added.
There was also desperation in devastated rural areas. People have been pleading to be airlifted out when the occasional helicopter has reached their villages with relief supplies.
In Dolakha angry residents smashed windows of a local administrative building, said Chief District Officer Prem Lal Lamichhane. "Over 200,000 people are homeless. We've been told that materials are on their way, but we haven't received them yet," the official pleaded.
A total of 5,057 people are known to have died in Nepal and around 100 more in neighbouring India and China. Around 8,000 were injured while the United Nations estimates that eight million people have been affected.
On Wednesday, the world body appealed for US$415 million for Nepal, saying that around 70,000 houses had been destroyed and another 530,000 damaged. One estimate has put the cost of reconstruction at US$5 billion.
"Although I am heartened and encouraged by the progress of the response to date, efforts need to be maintained and stepped up to ensure vital assistance reaches all the affected, especially those in the remote areas," said UN resident coordinator for Nepal, Jamie McGoldrick.
Earlier McGoldrick said that the Nepalese government had told organisers of the relief effort there was no need for further outside help, with teams from many countries on the ground.
'SO THIRSTY HE DRANK HIS OWN URINE'
Among the dead were 18 climbers who were at Mount Everest base camp when an avalanche from the quake flattened everything in its path. The victims included two Americans, an Australian and a Chinese national.
Police on Wednesday released a list of 33 foreigners still missing since the earthquake, including 15 Israelis, five Canadians, three Bangladeshis and three French nationals.
Rescuers underlined the daunting scale of the task. An Indian Air Force plane trying to reach one of the worst-hit areas near Kathmandu was forced to drop packets of noodles and sacks of rice from the air after being unable to land, with the ground below looking like the set of a war movie.
"We tried for 20 minutes but there was no possible way we could land. There was debris and rubble everywhere," Wing Commander Abhijit S. Bali told AFP at Larpak village 80 kilometres outside the capital.
An Indian military helicopter had better luck in the Gorkha Valley on Wednesday, airlifting around a dozen mainly Slovakian trekkers to safety.
And French rescuers plucked one man from the rubble of his Kathmandu hotel late Tuesday after he was trapped under masonry for around 82 hours.
Barely conscious and covered in dust, Rishi Khanal was taken to hospital after being fitted with a neck brace and a drip attached to his right arm. "He said he was so thirsty that he even drank his own urine," his brother-in-law Purna Ram Bhattarai told AFP.