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Death Toll Continues To Rise After Devastating Earthquake Hits Nepal


Shelter, food and water - basic necessities are the immediate need in Nepal three days after the worst earthquake that country has seen in 80 years. The death toll is now above 4,000, and that number is expected to rise significantly. Today, a State Department spokesman said at least four Americans have died. All of them were in the Mount Everest base camp area. NPR's Kirk Siegler is in the capital, Kathmandu, where he's been talking to people about what they need. He begins with the story of a climber who survived the earthquake.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Seventy-year-old Ron Nissen and three fellow climbers were sitting in a dining tent at the Everest base camp when, he says, the mountain shook. They unzipped the door and looked outside to see snow and ice barreling down the mountainside, triggered by the earthquake.

RON NISSEN: The whole of the tent just got blown away. I just huddled on the ground, flat as we could, as the avalanche roared over the top of me.

SIEGLER: It lasted four or five minutes; Nissen can't be sure. It was powerful enough to take out the camp, though.

NISSEN: It was just a scene of total devastation. It wiped out and just removed the tents. It removed all the sleeping tents, removed the cooking tent for the sherpas.

SIEGLER: Nissen escaped with only a few cuts and bruises, but he lost everything in the slide - his money, his passport, all of his gear. He did manage to find someone's jacket that he quickly grabbed before trekking down the mountain to the nearest village. Visibly traumatized, Nissen is fearing the worst about a still unaccounted for member of his team.

NISSEN: The fourth member of our team was a American doctor, a lady - a young lady. And I'm not aware at the moment whether they've found her body or not.

SIEGLER: Nissen was able to catch a ride on a helicopter back to the Kathmandu Valley, where he's now trying to reach his embassy. On the streets of the capital, some shops are reopening, but electricity is scant. Thousands of people displaced by this earthquake are camping out on pretty much every available piece of green space here. At a noisy traffic circle smack in the middle of the city, three families are even camped out under a tarp on the small median. Due to the continuing aftershocks, the government has advised people to sleep outside out in the open. The lucky ones have tarps. It's been raining heavily at night.

Over at a police station, hundreds of families are crammed onto the lawn. Rajon Gautan came here from his village about 90 kilometers away. It was hard hit - total devastation, he says. So he and his family made it to Kathmandu hoping to get help - no luck so far. They did manage to scrape together enough money to buy some water out on the street.

RAJON GAUTAN: We have to buy it from outside. No water, no anything here; no government, very weak government. They didn't listen to our problem.

SIEGLER: A lot of people you talk to have at least some frustration toward the government's response thus far. Emergency relief efforts have been hampered by the weather and buckled roads that fan out from the capital into rugged, mountainous terrain.

In the cramped trauma ward at the small Bir Hospital, Dr. Nsucsse Dangol says about 300 people have been treated since yesterday. Most were pulled out of the rubble of brick buildings in the neighborhoods surrounding this hospital, including this man lying on a worn mattress hooked up to a respirator.

NSUCSSE DANGOL: After it collapsed, he came here. They are just resuscitating.

SIEGLER: How many fatalities have you had? Do you know?

DANGOL: At least, it was 99 bodies yesterday.

SIEGLER: Ninety-nine fatalities in this hospital alone so far. The Nepalese government and aid agencies expect the death toll across this ravaged region to keep rising. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Kathmandu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.