Church agencies are battling bad weather and crippled infrastructure in the fight to deliver aid to victims of the Nepal earthquake amid fears that thousands are still missing.
Cor Unum, the Pontifical Council that coordinates humanitarian aid, has donated an initial US$100,000 (£65,108) to the relief effort.
The 7.9 magnitude earthquake killed more than than 5,000 people when it struck between the capital of the Hindu-majority country, Kathmandu, and the central city of Pokhara on Saturday morning.
The death toll in Nepal could reach 10,000, the country's Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala said yesterday. Meanwhile 100,000 people have fled Kathmandu for outlying villages, fearing the spread of disease and disorder among the wreckage of the city.
The director of Caritas Nepal, Fr Pius Perumana, told the US-based Catholic News Service on Tuesday that the logistical problems were “enormous” and that several Catholic aid groups had been delayed collecting supplies at Kathmandu airport because of congestion.
At one point the airport was closed due to heavy rain; meanwhile dozens of international flights carrying much-needed supplies are being held in the air because the airport can only accommodate 12 international flights at a time.
Matthew Carter, Humanitarian Director at aid agency Cafod, said that more than eight million people – a quarter of Nepal's population – had been affected and that the quake had "a devastating effect".
Charities faced a "staggering" challenge to reach victims stranded by downed power lines and blocked roads, he added.
"But the great strength of the Catholic Church in an emergency is its ability to reach remote areas and to work with local volunteers on the very frontline of the crisis. People have been taking shelter in churches and in tents on church grounds, and our partner Caritas Nepal has been doing fantastic work in supporting them," he said.
Nepal’s only serving Catholic bishop, Paul Simick, told the charity Aid to the Church in Need that houses fell “like a pack of cards” when the quake hit.
The bishop, who is Vicar Apostolic of Nepal and is based in Kathmandu, added: “I myself had to literally run to save my life."
An appeal by the charity Christian Aid raised more than £145,000 in less than 48 hours. The charity said it had dispatched tens of thousands of sachets of a water purification agent to ensure communities have access to safe water.
Survivors of the Nepal earthquake are in desperate need of shelter and aid and thousands of people, including children, have been forced to sleep outside in the cold.
The number of dead is expected to rise as news filters in from the remote villages near the epicentre of the quake.
Pope Francis on Sunday prayed for the victims during his Regina Caeli address, expressing his closeness to those who suffered before leading thousands of pilgrims in St Peter’s Square in reciting a Hail Mary dedicated to victims of the quake.
His prayer echoed the words of a telegram of condolence sent by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, on Saturday to the Vicar Apostolic of Nepal, Bishop Paul Simick.
In Kathmandu the local branch of the Catholic Church’s aid agency Caritas distributed tents and emergency food supplies. Vast tent cities have sprung up in the capital and some families are sheltering in the Assumption Church.
Its director, Fr Pius Perumana, said survivors were in dire need of food and protection from the cold.
“What I have seen is a lot of destruction. So many buildings collapsed and cracked. I saw a number of bodies on the street. People are still trapped in buildings and we don’t know whether they are dead or alive,” he said.
Renuka Magdalene Thakuri, 54, who took shelter in the Assumption church, said she felt safe there but was hesitant to return home until the aftershocks subsided.
A youth leader from the church, Santosh Kumar Magar, 29, who had been at an ordination of a priest in eastern Nepal as the quake hit, told how houses cracked and crumbled around him as he made his way home to Kathmandu the following day. He said that many people in the remote village of Okhaldhunga were saved because they had been inside the church taking part in the ordination ceremony.
Patients at The Leprosy Mission's Anandaban hospital, 12km south of Kathmandu, are living outside in tents because of fears of aftershocks. Numbers at the hospital, the only one in the area with neccessary supplies, including a blood bank.
Cafod, the aid agency of the bishops’ of England and Wales, and the Scottish Catholic International Fund have both launched emergency appeals.
Matthew Carter described the situation on the ground as extremely challenging.
“After a disaster on this scale, the immediate needs will include food, shelter, emergency supplies and – crucially – clean water and sanitation to prevent the spread of disease,” he said.
Hundreds of people were still trapped on Mount Everest today after Base Camp was destroyed by a huge avalanche.
To donate to Cafod go here.
Above: People carry a banner during a candlelight prayer service in Kolkata, India, for victims of the earthquake in Nepal. Photo: CNS photo/Piyal Adhikary, EPA
All other photos: Caritas