Nepal earthquake: Rural regions prepare for the worst

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Media captionAerial view of the earthquake aftermath near the epicentre in Gorkha district, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur

As emergency teams reach the areas around the epicentre of the Nepal earthquake, many are warning of scenes of complete devastation.

The 7.8-magnitude quake struck on Saturday in the hilly district of Gorkha, west of Kathmandu.

Aid groups say the damage could be far worse in rural areas than in the capital.

One aid worker spoke of "an entire village - all but gone" - and there are fears others have suffered the same fate.

The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it expected "high and significant damage" in the regions closest to the earthquake's epicentre, Gorkha and Lamjung.

Close to 300,000 people live in Gorkha, which is normally around four hours' travel from Kathmandu. The region's most senior official, Udav Prashad Timalsina, said: "There are people who are not getting food and shelter.

"I've had reports of villages where 70% of the houses have been destroyed."

Image copyright AP/World Vision
Image caption The epicentre of the earthquake was Gorkha, though very few images have emerged from the region
Image copyright AP/World Vision
Image caption Parts of Gorkha district, like the village of Paslang, have been completely levelled

Mr Timalsina said 223 people had been confirmed dead in the district but he said "the number would go up because there are thousands who are injured".

On Monday, an Indian journalist flew over the damage in Gorkha in an Indian army helicopter. The footage shows many low-lying houses, seemingly cut off in the middle of mountains and reduced to rubble.

The journalist, Jugal Purohit, said: "What we are witnessing here are villages completely devastated, destroyed and, in a sense, rubbed off the map of Nepal."

The aerial images are the first recorded pictures of the destruction near the epicentre. Very few images of damage there have emerged, even on social media.

Matt Darvas, of the charity World Vision, is in the town of Pokhara, further west from the epicentre. He told the BBC: "I spoke to one man. He had been [evacuated] in to the hospital where I was, in the very first helicopter.

"In his village of 1,100 homes, almost every home was decimated. He estimated 90%. That's a village of over 2,000 people.

"There could be many other villages in a similar case where the entire village is all but gone."

Mr Darvas said he expected the death toll in Gorkha to rise "significantly".

Pokhara itself - Nepal's second city and a popular trekking destination - appears to have been spared significant damage, though there are reports of people sleeping outside due to a fear of buildings collapsing.

'Widespread destruction'

Teams from many major charities have so far been unable to reach the more outlying areas of the country, but have plans to do so as soon as possible. Many are working with regional partners who are based in western Nepal.

But access to areas such as Gorkha and Lamjung, that are hilly, isolated and heavily forested, was difficult even before the earthquake, that caused landslides to block roads.

Mr Darvas said some parts of Gorkha could take up to five days to reach.

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Media captionDivya Arya reports from the town of Sankhu, 16km north-east of Kathmandu, where at least 56 people have died

Chandra Kayastha is the programme unit manager for Plan International in Baglung, 270 kilometres west of Kathmandu. He told the BBC: "The main problem of this area is damage of their houses and school buildings.

"Some of the area is very remote, it takes more than three hours, four hours on a wagon, there's no road facilities even before the disaster because it lies in the western hills of Nepal."

Part of the effort to help relief teams reach distant areas will come down to space agencies.Rural Nepal prepares for the worst

The earthquake has led to the activation of the UN's International Charter on "Space and Major Disasters".

Many of the world's space agencies are signatories to the charter, and they will now task their satellites to gather images of the country every time they pass overhead.

The images will be used to assess the scale of the damage, and to find roads not blocked by landslides.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Victims are being treated in Dhading Besi, west of Kathmandu, but charities are struggling to get further west
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption One village west of the capital is reported to have lost 90% of its buildings
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption One charity says it could take five days to reach the most remote regions affected

One added factor, says Rupa Joshi, a communications officer with Unicef Nepal, is the fact that many men from rural areas are absent, having gone to work for more money abroad.

She said: "In many of the villages in Nepal, many of the men are out of the country. So what you find in these villages are the elderly, women and children.

"They are now the ones who are having to deal with this massive thing - when their houses have come down, their homes wiped out - without men, who are usually the ones running around, setting things straight."

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