KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — The first supplies of food aid began reaching remote, earthquake-shattered mountain villages in Nepal, while thousands clamored to board buses out of Kathmandu, either to check on rural relatives or for fear of spending yet another night in the damaged capital.
Frustration over the slow delivery of humanitarian aid boiled over in a protest in the city, with about 200 people facing off with police and blocking traffic.
The protest was comparatively small and no demonstrators were detained. But it reflected growing anger over bottlenecks that delayed much-needed relief days after the powerful earthquake that killed more than 5,500 people, injured twice that many and left tens of thousands homeless. Police, meanwhile, arrested dozens of people on suspicion of looting or causing panic by spreading rumors of another big quake.
Helicopters finally brought food, temporary shelter and other aid to hamlets north of Kathmandu in the mountainous Gorkha District near the epicenter of Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake. Entire clusters of homes there were reduced to piles of stone and splintered wood. Women greeted the delivery with repeated cries of “We are hungry!”
While the death toll in the village of Gumda was low — only five people were killed and 20 were injured among 1,300 residents — most had lost their homes and desperately needed temporary shelter, along with the 40-kilogram (90-pound) sacks of rice that were delivered Wednesday. Adding to residents’ misery was the rain that has fallen periodically since the quake and hampered helicopter aid flights.
The U.N. World Food Program warned that it will take time for food and other supplies to reach more remote communities that have been cut off by landslides.
“More helicopters, more personnel and certainly more relief supplies, including medical teams, shelter, tents, water and sanitation and food, are obviously needed,” said the program’s Geoff Pinnock, who was coordinating the flights.
With more than 8 million Nepalese affected by the earthquake, including 1.4 million who need immediate food assistance, Pinnock said the effort would continue for months.
President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and discussed U.S. military and civilian efforts already underway to help Nepal, the White House said.
Police said the official death toll in Nepal had reached 5,489 as of late Wednesday. That figure did not include the 19 people killed at Mount Everest — five foreign climbers and 14 Nepalese Sherpa guides — when the quake unleashed an avalanche at base camp.
At least 210 foreign trekkers and residents stranded in the Lantang area north of Kathmandu had been rescued, government administrator Gautam Rimal said. The area, which borders Tibet, is popular with tourists.
In Kathmandu, where most buildings were spared complete collapse, many residents — fearing aftershocks — continued to camp in parks and other open spaces.
But people were starting to leave tent cities like those in Kathmandu’s Tudikhel area. Anop Bhattachan and more than two dozen relatives have been sleeping on the field since Saturday, but he said they now want to get out of the city.
Thousands waited at bus stations in Kathmandu, hoping to reach their hometowns in rural areas. Some wanted to check on the fate of family and loved ones in the quake, while others were fearful of more aftershocks in the city.
“I am hoping to get on a bus, any bus heading out of Kathmandu. I am too scared to be staying in Kathmandu,” said Raja Gurung, who wanted to get to his home in western Nepal. “The house near my rented apartment collapsed. It was horrible. I have not gone indoors in many days. I would rather leave than live a life of fear in Kathmandu.”
Despite Wednesday’s small protest, there were signs that life was inching back to normal in the capital. Banks opened for a few hours and refilled their ATMs with cash, some shops reopened and vendors returned to the streets.
Even though Nabin and Laxmi Shrestha remained frightened about aftershocks, the husband and wife have reopened their tea shop.
“I’m scared, but people are hungry. We need to feed them,” Laxmi Shrestha said.
Planes carrying food and other supplies have been steadily arriving at Kathmandu’s small airport, but the aid distribution process remains fairly chaotic, with Nepalese officials having difficulty directing the flow of emergency supplies.
A man who was freed after being trapped for 82 hours in a collapsed hotel gave details of his ordeal, saying he drank his own urine to survive.
“I had some hope, but by yesterday I’d given up,” Rishi Khanal told The Associated Press from his hospital bed Wednesday. “My nails went all white and my lips cracked … I was sure no one was coming for me. I was certain I was going to die.”
The 27-year-old Khanal, whose foot was crushed under the debris, said he was surrounded by bodies and kept banging on the rubble until a French rescue team pulled him out.
“I am thankful,” he said.
Daigle reported from Gumda, Nepal. Associated Press writers Binaj Gurubacharya, Jerry Harmer and Rishi Lekhi in Kathmandu contributed to this report.
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