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Nepali Prime Minister Declares 3 Days Of Mourning Following Quake


Nepal's Prime Minister has declared three days of national mourning following Saturday's deadly earthquake. The government says the death toll could exceed 10,000. For many, the mourning began right after the disaster, but for some families, the search for their loved ones continues. NPR's Kirk Siegler the reports from the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: On the first of three days of national mourning, it's a grim site at the ancient Pashupati Temple. Bodies of earthquake victims are being cremated on the banks of the Bagmati River, under Hindu custom. Usually there are one, maybe two cremations at a time. But since the earthquake, it's almost nonstop - 10 or 12 going at once. Hundreds of bodies - some identified, some not - have arrived here from local hospitals.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

SIEGLER: Men throw sticks and bundles of straw on the flames. On the riverbank, a group of young girls and boys has arrived to help clean. Some are standing knee deep in the filthy river, raking it out. Organizer Deepesh Kasi says this place was covered with human remains.

DEEPESH KASI: (Speaking Nepalese).

SIEGLER: "There was no space," he says. "We are trying to clean up. It's very stressful here." Dozens of mourners sit along the stone wall. Ash and smoke and a stench hangs thick in the air. Outside one of the rooms in a building near the temple, shoes are placed at the doorstep as a sign of respect.

BARAILI: Namaste.


SIEGLER: A man who introduces himself as Baraili sits on a rug covering the bare concrete floor. He and his family have traveled 50 miles from their village here to mourn the death of his wife. Their mud home collapsed during the quake.

BARAILI: (Speaking Nepalese).

SIEGLER: He says his three sons did survive. As he talks, one sits across from him with gashes on his face and arms. All of the family's food, pots, pans, clothes were destroyed. They haven't eaten for a day, and they borrowed money to travel here to this sacred temple to mourn.

BARAILI: (Speaking Nepalese).

SIEGLER: "We have nothing," he says. "No one's come to help us, and we don't know where to go for help." The Nepalese government and military are defending their response. The Ministry of Home Affairs says it's distributed the equivalent of $26 million in aid so far. Reaching the remote rural areas has been hard given the mountainous terrain and rainy weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken through loudspeaker).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken through loudspeaker).

SIEGLER: At a new military aid and medical camp, people are lined up to be treated for minor injuries at a nursing station. Earthquake victims guzzle bottled water in the steamy sun. Soldiers from the Nepalese and Thai armies are handing the bottles out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

SIEGLER: It's a sign of progress after days of so many people living under tarps in the rain with no running water or toilets.

PRAYOG RANA: See, actually, initially the camp was established by itself. There was no coordination - nothing.

SIEGLER: Colonel Prayog Rana of the Nepalese military says this was one of the largest impromptu tent cities in Kathmandu. It's at least six or seven football fields in size. At one point there were several thousand people here. The colonel says the soldiers came in to clean things up.

RANA: We are trying our level best to organize things here, keep it as clean and hygienic as possible, and give them the best services as we possibly can.

SIEGLER: The military says more of these camps are planned now that international aid groups are getting better established on the ground. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Kathmandu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.