India launches massive Nepal relief operation
NEW DELHI // India stepped up its mammoth relief effort in earthquake-hit Nepal on Sunday, dispatching planeloads of supplies and personnel as tremors continued to ripple through the region.
The Indian aid effort, dubbed Operation Maitri, meaning “amity”, began within hours after the 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck its northern neighbour.
Four Indian Air Force transport aircraft landed in Kathmandu on Saturday evening, carrying doctors as well as 450 members of India’s National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF).
Another six NDRF teams were shuttled to Nepal on Sunday, raising the total number of relief personnel to 720.
“My dear brothers and sisters of Nepal, India is with you in this hour of grief,” prime minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday. “India will do its best to wipe the tears of every Nepali, hold their hands, and stand with them.”
The Indian operation is part of an international effort to assist those affected by the earthquake, many of whom live in remote areas made more inaccessible by landslides and bad weather.
The United States announced an initial aid package of US$1 million (Dh3.67m) for relief efforts and its international assistance agency USAID sent disaster assistance and rescue teams to assess the situation, as well as medical experts to work with Nepal’s army.
The French government sent a team of 11 rescue workers and emergency supplies, while the International Search and Rescue Germany, a relief organisation, flew in 52 personnel and dog squads to search for people trapped under rubble.
India’s defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, stressed his country’s “long cultural and family ties” with Nepal, saying, “We are obligated to help the country in their hour of need.”
The home minister, Rajnath Singh, ordered camps to be set up along the border with Nepal to assist people crossing into India on foot.
On the home ministry’s direction, the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which border Nepal, will mobilise a fleet of ambulances and relief lorries to help with rescue efforts.
India’s health ministry flew a 34-member medical team to Kathmandu as well, as well as 15 tonnes of medical supplies.
“The team consists of 10 orthopaedic surgeons, four anaesthetists, 12 male nurses and eight [surgical] technicians to the earthquake-affected areas of Nepal to provide emergency medical relief,” the ministry said.
The Indian air force deployed a dozen helicopters to assist the Nepali government with its reconnaissance and rescue missions.
“The plan is to drop relief supplies in worst-affected valleys in case landing is not possible,” Sitanshu Kar, a defence ministry spokesperson, told the IANS news agency. “The helicopters are flying almost non-stop since this morning.”
Air force planes also ferried water, food, blankets, tents and teams of army engineers to Nepal.
New Delhi has also arranged to quickly provide visas free of charge to tourists stranded in Nepal and hoping to leave for India before flying to their home countries.
India began evacuating its own citizens on Saturday, with the first air force flight returning late on Saturday night with 55 people, including four babies. A second flight arrived early on Sunday, with 101 people.
And additional 546 Indians were flown out of Kathmandu by midday on Sunday.
Even so, people formed a line of a kilometre outside Kathmandu airport, hoping to take one of the infrequent flights out of the country. According to one estimate, more than 3,000 Indians were stranded at the airport as of Sunday evening, waiting for an evacuation.
Operation Maitri builds upon relief skills put into practice over the past year, first with the floods in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in September and then with the evacuation of Indians from strife-torn Yemen earlier this month.
“We have never operated in Nepal earlier,” Sandeep Rathore, an NDRF official, told the Indian Express newspaper. “But the experience gained during flood operations in Jammu & Kashmir taught us lessons that can be implemented in Nepal.”
More than 2,500 people were confirmed dead in the earthquake, the worst to hit Nepal in 80 years. Another 5,500 were estimated to be seriously injured.
More than 50 people died in India due to the earthquake.
Published: April 26, 2015 04:00 AM