A massive earthquake killed more than 1,200 people Saturday as it tore through large parts of Nepal, toppling office blocks and towers in Kathmandu and triggering a deadly avalanche at Everest base camp.

The government of Nepal has declared a state of emergency after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country and killed hundreds of people, touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest.

Officials said that more than 1,800 people were known to have died on Saturday in Nepal’s most powerful quake in decades, that struck 80km east of Pokhara, about half way between the town and the capital Kathmandu.

As aftershocks continued throughout Saturday, the toll was was expected to rise significantly as the scale of the disaster became clear.

Of the dead retrieved so far, 634 were reported dead in the Kathmandu Valley and at least 300 more in the capital, a police spokesman told Reuters news agency.

A further 36 fatalities were reported in northern India, 12 in Tibet and four in Bangladesh.

Photos posted on Twitter showed buildings left in rubble, large cracks along roads and worried residents on the streets.

The earthquake destroyed many historical landmarks, including the UNESCO World Heritage temples at Basantapur Durbar Square and the Dharara tower, both in central Kathmandu.

It has been reported that around 250 people may have been in the Dharara tower when it collapsed. At least 50 people are believed to be trapped under an ancient tower in Kathmandu which collapsed in the quake.

Emergency workers and army and police personnel, with the help of residents and bystanders, continued to work tirelessly on Saturday to clear the rubble from these sites and to rescue any survivors from under the debris, although bodies were mostly being pulled out.

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As night fell the country, thousands of people were staying outdoors and found refuge in Kathmandu’s open spaces, in fear that subsequent aftershocks may cause further damage.

– Historic tower collapses –

Kathmandu was severely damaged, and the historic nine-storey Dharahara tower, a major tourist attraction, was among buildings brought down.

At least a dozen bodies were taken away from the ruins of the 19th-century tower, according to an AFP photographer who saw similar scenes of multiple casualties throughout the city.

“It was difficult to breath, but I slowly moved the debris. Someone then pulled me out. I don’t know where my friends are,” Dharmu Subedi, 36, who was standing outside the tower when it collapsed, said from a hospital bed.

At least 42 people were known to have died in India, including 30 in the eastern state of Bihar, while buildings in the capital New Delhi had to be evacuated.

The United States Geological Survey said the shallow quake struck 77 kilometres (48 miles) northwest of Kathmandu at 0611 GMT, with walls crumbling and families racing outside their homes.

The quake tore through the middle of highways in the capital and also caused damage to thecountry’s only international airport which was briefly closed.

Kari Cuelenaere, an official at the Dutch embassy, said the impact had swept the water out of a swimming pool at a Kathmandu hotel where Dutch national day was being celebrated.

“It was horrible, all of a sudden all the water came up out of the pool and drenched everyone, the children started screaming,” Cuelenaere told AFP. “Some parts of the city fell down, there was dust rising… There were many (rescue) helicopters.”

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Aftershock tremors could be felt more than two hours after the initial quake.

USGS initially measured the quake at 7.5 magnitude and later adjusted it to 7.8, with a depth of 15 kilometres.

Nepal and the rest of the Himalayas are particularly prone to earthquakes because of the collision of the Indian and Eurasia plates.



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