Authorities in Nepal say the death toll from a magnitude 7.8 earthquake is rising as bodies are retrieved from rubble. Many survivors are spending the night in the streets.
Nepalese officials say that the death toll from Saturday's massive earthquake, which some reports say has already gone well past the thousand mark, is likely to rise considerably further, with many people believed to be still buried under rubble.
The exact number of casualties remains unclear.
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said late on Saturday that the provisional death toll stood at around 888, while the country's finance minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, wrote on his Twitter account that as many as 1,457 people had died according to the Nepalese army.
Most of the deaths were caused by collapsing buildings and walls. Hospitals are reportedly full to overflowing with hundreds of injured.
"This is a very large earthquake in a significantly populated region with infrastructure that has been damaged in past earthquakes," US Geological Survey (USGS) seismologist Paul Earle told the Associated Press.
"Significant fatalities are expected," he added.
As night fell in the capital, Kathmandu, many people were preparing to spend the night outside on the streets, with some of them having been made homeless by the quake, while others feared aftershocks.
Ariani Soejeti, who works for the International Organization for Migration in Kathmandu, told DW that brief tremors could still be felt every few minutes in the early evening, with the UN instructing its staff to stay outside their houses.
Several historic temples and buildings were destroyed in the quake, including the Dharahara Tower, a landmark structure from the 1800s. A number of people visiting the site are feared to have been killed when it came down.
Several countries affected
The earthquake struck a few minutes before noon local time (06:11: 26 UTC), with the USGS saying that the epicenter was 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) deep, some 80 kilometers west-northwest of Kathmandu. A magnitude-6.6 aftershock hit about an hour later.
Some regions in India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh were also affected by the quake. More than 40 deaths were reported in those countries, where the worst-hit area was the eastern Indian state of Bihar, which borders on Nepal.
The earthquake also unleashed an avalanche on Mount Everest. An Indian army spokesman told Reuters news agency that 18 bodies had been found by an army mountaineering team, while other reports spoke of dozens of injured.
April is one of the most popular times to climb the world's highest peak. Just over a year ago, 16 Sherpa guides were killed in a severe landslide there.
The tremor is the worst to hit Nepal since 1934, when a quake of similar magnitude killed 17,000 people, most of them in Kathmandu.
tj/rc (Reuters, dpa, AP)