RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
There is a great trek under way in Nepal - desperate people trying to make it back home to villages scattered throughout the Himalayas, places many fear have been devastated by an earthquake and its powerful aftershocks. At the moment, the death toll is 5,000, though it's expected to go much higher, and efforts to rescue the wounded and get aid to survivors are barely underway in the most remote areas. NPR's Julie McCarthy has made her way to the mountains a few hours outside Kathmandu, which is where we reached her. Welcome.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Thank you, Renee. You may hear the helicopter over me buzzing and trying to ferry the aid to the most distant places.
MONTAGNE: Some helicopters are getting there. Where exactly are you, and what are you seeing?
MCCARTHY: Well, I'm in the district of Gorkha, which was the epicenter of Saturday's earthquake. I'm actually sitting on the roof of a very kind villager in Tapleshym (ph), a village of about a thousand people. Three people died here in this particular village, and I'm told by our host that 95 percent of the people are living outdoors. Just across this valley there were houses that have been completely destroyed. Huge rainstorms swept through here yesterday, which just meant added misery for people who have to live outside. Renee, in this district, the chief bureaucrat told me last night 364 people were killed in this district alone. He said they need 50,000 tents and that so far they have only 3,000.
MONTAGNE: Right. And, as we understand, a part of the problem with aid getting in is that there are roads that are impassable. There are landslides. How did you make your way there?
MCCARTHY: Well, we got in a rather sturdy vehicle that would help us wend our way through what we thought was going to be the most devastated area. There is no chance that you're going to get there, even in a reinforced four-wheel-drive car. It's too far away, and, of course, the earthquake has destroyed roads. And these are already very isolated places in northern elevations here in the far north of this particular district.
People are leaving Kathmandu, the capital, in droves to return home because they think it's too dangerous to be there. It suffered a lot of aftershocks. There's now shortages growing in the capital. So people are moving out, and they're crowding these buses, which are crowding the roads up here. So, in many ways, this is the kind of scene that you get in a disaster. Renee, interestingly, when we arrived last night, you could feel the ground shaking constantly. It felt like Jell-O, and it lasted through the evening, less so today.
MONTAGNE: What about aid? You just mentioned a helicopter.
MCCARTHY: Right, the helicopters - the government is now beginning to fly helicopter sorties up to that highest area. They're small choppers, and their first priority to bring down the injured. But there is a huge shortage of helicopters, and that is holding up the rescue operation in these very inaccessible areas. Survivors I spoke with at the district hospital today just described scenes of utter devastation in the village of Barpak, a place considered the epicenter of the quake.
The aid agencies are beginning to arrive just today, Renee - the Medecins sans Frontieres, the Save the Childrens - in this area. And so it's very early days for this. And I have to say, the coordination - there's a great confusion. I was at a meeting that lasted probably two and a half hours last night, and they still didn't really come out with a plan. And the people up in these affected areas, of course, are being victimized twice by that.
MONTAGNE: Well, Julie, thanks. We'll, of course, be talking to you in the coming hours and days.
MCCARTHY: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy speaking to us from the Gorkha district, which is at the epicenter of the quake in Nepal.
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