A powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling a 19th-century tower in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu and triggering a fatal avalanche on Mount Everest.
There were reports of devastation in outlying areas of the Himalayan country after the quake struck with a magnitude of 7.9, its epicenter 50 miles (80 km) east of Nepal's second largest city, Pokhara.
The worst quake to hit the impoverished Himalayan nation in 81 years also caused damage in neighboring Indian states and Bangladesh. The quake was shallow, intensifying the amount of energy released over a relatively small area.
A police spokesman said the death toll had reached 449 in Nepal according to an initial estimate, most from the Kathmandu Valley. There was little information coming from the outlying areas of the mountainous country and helicopters were circling overheard to get a better sense of the damage.
"Hundreds of people are feared dead and there are reports of widespread damage to property. The devastation is not confined to some areas of Nepal. Almost the entire country has been hit," said Krishna Prasad Dhakal, deputy chief of mission at Nepal’s Embassy in New Delhi.
A tourism official said eight people were killed by an avalanche unleashed by the earthquake that swept through the Everest Base Camp for climbers of the world's highest mountain.
"The toll could go up, it may include foreigners as well as sherpas," Gyanendra Shrestha said.
A collapse in communications was hampering efforts to launch relief efforts across Nepal's rugged terrain.
At the main hospital in Kathmandu, people with broken limbs and arms were being rushed in for treatment. Crowds and volunteers formed human chains to clear the way for ambulances to bring in the injured.
"There are people everyone where in the corridors and out in the field," said a Reuters reporter.
Television news footage showed people being treated on the streets outside hospitals and several bodies lying in rows, covered in blankets.
The Everest avalanches, first reported by climbers, raised fears for those on the world's loftiest peak a year after a massive snowslide caused the deadliest incident yet there.
Romanian climber Alex Gavan said on Twitter that there had been a "huge avalanche" and "many, many" people were up on the mountain. "Running for life from my tent," Gavan said. "Everest base camp huge earthquake then huge avalanche."
Another climber, Daniel Mazur, said Everest base camp had been "severely damaged" and his team was trapped.
"Please pray for everyone," he said on his Twitter page.
The quake death toll has risen to 758, according to a Nepalese home ministry official, who said there were 467 fatalities in the Kathmandu Valley.
Nepali government declares state of emergency
The Nepali government has declared a state of emergency in the affected districts, according to the BBC.
Deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam has appealed for international humanitarian assistance.
The death toll has now climbed to 758 people, across four countries.
Indian prime minister Modi has ordered an immediate dispatch of relief and medical teams to Nepal, and the evacuation of Indian tourists.
Meanwhile, Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif has offered “all possible help” that Nepal may need after the earthquake.
AP has released a video showing chaos in the quake’s aftermath:
The ancient Dharhara tower - which is one of the most prominent buildings to have collapsed in the heart of Kathmandu’s historic old city - was one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.
The white nine-storey tower was once the place where kings were once crowned. It featured a bronze minaret and a spiral staircase of over 200 steps, leading to a small shrine to the Hindu god Shiva.
The Dharhara tower has now been reduced to just its base when the earthquake struck.
Rescue workers were seen dragging bodies from the rubble and TV footage showed chaotic scenes at the site, as people desperately tried to dig through piles of bricks and dust with their bare hands.
Dinesh Acharya, a spokesman for Kathmandu police, said rescue workers were frantically trying to “bring everyone out to safety”.
“Our team is still deployed in Dharara to rescue people. However, we do not know how many are still trapped,” he told AFP.