Search continues for missing Aussies in Nepal

Climbers search through crushed tents for fellow climbers caught in an avalanche at a base camp on the Nepal side of Mount Everest on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mariusz Malkowski)

Climbers search through crushed tents for fellow climbers caught in an avalanche at a base camp on the Nepal side of Mount Everest on Saturday. (AP Photo/Mariusz Malkowski)

Melbourne [AAP]

The search for Australians missing in the Nepal earthquake continues as those on the ground say the conditions are truly shocking.

World Vision CEO Tim Costello is in Kathmandu and says the aftermath of Saturday’s 7.9 magnitude quake is devastating.

‘What shocks you is seeing smoke and asking what that is – well, it’s burning the corpses and putting the ashes in the river here,’ he told AAP.

Mr Costello said a giant tent city has been set up but clean water and toilets are in short supply.

‘People who are still in the tent cities are mainly motivated by fear,’ he said.

‘There’s just wild rumours, ever-present rumours that another, bigger earthquake is coming.’

Australians stranded in Nepal following the deadly earthquake will be offered military flights out of the country.

Consular officials have contacted more than 1150 Australians in Nepal and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says they are safe and well.

While the highly vulnerable will be given first priority on the flights out, the federal government is encouraging Australians who are able to pursue commercial flights out of Nepal.

Mr Costello said congestion at the airport was hampering some efforts to get relief in, as well as bad weather and poor telecommunications.

‘Our staff in the regions are getting really desperate, they say `nothing is getting out here’ because of landslides and bad weather. It’s been pouring rain this afternoon,’ he said.

Mr Costello called on Australians to help what he said were some of the most gentle people in the world in one of its poorest nations.

‘Let’s really be there for them in this moment,’ he said.

The Australian government has increased its aid contribution from $5 million to $6 million, but the opposition says the total is ‘pretty modest’.

Australia has a search and rescue team available for deployment to Nepal where it could join 10 other teams from around the world.

Toll passes 5,000

Meanwhile, hungry and desperate villagers have rushed towards relief helicopters in remote areas of Nepal, begging to be airlifted to safety, four days after the devastating earthquake killed more than 5,000 people.

‘The ground keeps shaking, even this morning it did. Every time it feels like we will be swallowed, that we will die now. I want to get out of here!’ said Sita Gurung, 24, whose home had been wrecked.

As the Himalayan nation’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said getting help to remote areas was a ‘major challenge’, aid finally began reaching areas that had to fend for themselves since Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake.

In a televised address late Tuesday, Koirala declared three days of national mourning for the 5,057 people known to have perished in Nepal alone.

More than 100 people died in neighbouring countries such as India and China.

Around 8,000 people had been injured while the United Nations estimated that eight million people had been affected.

Melbourne woman Renu Fotedar was among the 18 climbers who were killed at Mount Everest base camp when an avalanche triggered by the quake flattened everything in its path.

Countries far and wide have joined the relief effort in what is one of Asia’s poorest countries, with neighbouring India playing a leading role.

In Gorkha, one of the worst-hit districts, terrified residents ran with outstretched arms towards an Indian army helicopter to plead for food and water.

An AFP journalist on board saw scores of houses across several villages in the district turned into twisted mounds of wood and corrugated tin roofs.

‘We haven’t had any food here since the earthquake,’ Gurung told AFP.

Koirala told an emergency all-party meeting the government was sending desperately needed tents, water and food supplies to those in need.

But he said authorities were overwhelmed by appeals for help from remote Himalayan villages.

‘Appeals for rescues are coming in from everywhere,’ a statement from Koirala’s office quoted him as saying.

‘But we have been unable to initiate rescue efforts in many areas at the same time due to lack of equipment and rescue experts.’

In a sign of how difficult conditions are, Nepalese official Uddav Prasad Bhattarai said 250 people were feared missing after an avalanche Tuesday on the popular Langtang trekking route.

With fears rising of food and water shortages, Nepalis were rushing to stores and petrol stations to stock up on essential supplies in the capital Kathmandu.

Nepal has declared a state of emergency after the disaster, its deadliest in more than 80 years.

Families who work in Kathmandu were packing onto buses – some even sitting on the roofs – in an exodus from the city.

Those who remained in the capital were sleeping outdoors in tents in parks and other open spaces. Many had lost their houses, others were too terrified to return home after several powerful aftershocks.

With just plastic sheets to protect them from the elements, many were desperate for aid and information on what to do next.

‘We’ve been staying here for three days, living under canvas. We’re counting every bite we eat, every drop we drink,’ said 28-year-old housewife Rama Shrestha, who was camping out with her five-year-old son.

Hospitals have been overwhelmed, with morgues overflowing and medics working flat out to cope with an endless stream of victims suffering trauma or multiple fractures.

The United Nations said it was releasing $US15 million ($A19.09 million) from its emergency fund to help relief efforts while the World Food Program said it aimed to get food aid to 1.4 million people over the next three months.

Australia said it was raising its level of aid to $A6 million and sending a military plane to bring in relief supplies and evacuate stranded citizens. [Gorkha AFP]

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