KATHMANDU, Nepal — Thousands of villagers in the mountains of northwestern Nepal slept outdoors Saturday night in the bitter cold after an earthquake killed at least 157 people and damaged or destroyed most homes.
Most of the houses in villages in Jajarkot district either collapsed or were severely damaged by the sudden earthquake Friday night, while the few concrete houses in towns were also damaged.
“We are waiting to cremate the bodies of our villagers and have been trying to take care of the people who were injured in the earthquake,” said Lal Bahadur Bika, a resident of Chiuri village, pointing to 13 bodies wrapped in white cloth awaiting cremation on Sunday morning.
Most houses in Chiuri village collapsed.
People used whatever they could find to set up shelter for the night, using plastic sheets and old clothes to keep them warm. Most people have been unable to retrieve their belongings from under the rubble.
Most of those killed were crushed by debris when their houses — usually made by stacking rocks and logs — crumbled under the force of the earthquake, local media reported.
While rescuers were scrambling to rush aid, operations were hampered by the fact that many of the mountainous villages could only be reached by foot. Roads were also blocked by landslides triggered by the earthquake. Soldiers could be seen trying to clear the blocked roads.
The government is trying to get aid to the affected areas, Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha said on Saturday. Tents, food and medicine were flown in as thousands became homeless overnight.
“I was fast asleep when all of a sudden it started shaking violently. I tried to run but the whole house collapsed. I tried escaping but half my body got buried in the debris,” said Bimal Kumar Karki, one of the first people to be brought to the regional hospital.
“I screamed, but every one of my neighbors was in the same situation and screaming for help. It took nearly a half-hour to an hour before rescuers found me,” he said.
Another injured man recovering in the hospital also described getting buried while he was asleep.
“I was asleep and around 10 or 11 at night it started shaking and the house caved. So many houses have collapsed and so many people have been buried,” said Tika Ram Rana, who had his head wrapped in a white bandage.
Besides aid, rescuers were focused on finding survivors.
Local television aired footage of troops recovering bodies while others helped dig out and carry the injured.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 and occurred at a depth of 11 miles (18 kilometers). Nepal’s National Earthquake Monitoring & Research Center said its epicenter was in Jajarkot, which is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of the capital, Kathmandu.
In Jajarkot district, a mostly agricultural area, at least 105 people were confirmed dead while 52 were killed in the neighboring Rukum district, officials said. Another 184 were injured.
At the regional hospital in the city of Nepalgunj, more than 100 beds were made available and teams of doctors stood by to help the injured.
Apart from rescue helicopters, small government and army planes able to land in the short mountain strips were also used to ferry the wounded to Nepalgunj.
The quake, which hit when many people were already asleep in their homes, was also felt in India’s capital, New Delhi, more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) away.
Earthquakes are common in mountainous Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015 killed some 9,000 people and damaged about 1 million structures.
Associated Press Television cameraman Upendra Man Singh contributed to this report.