The death toll from last week's massive earthquake in Nepal has surpassed 7,000, Nepal's National Emergency Operation Centre said Saturday.
The startling new numbers came hours after a U.N. official said that customs inspections at Kathmandu airport are holding up vital relief supplies for survivors in Nepal.
United Nations Resident Representative Jamie McGoldrick said the government must loosen its normal customs restrictions to deal with the increasing flow of relief material now pouring in from abroad and piling up at the airport.
But the government, complaining it has received such unneeded supplies as tuna and mayonnaise, insisted its customs agents had to check all emergency shipments.
U.S. military aircraft and personnel due to arrive on Saturday to help ferry relief supplies to stricken areas outside the capital were delayed and tentatively scheduled to arrive on Sunday, a U.S. Marines spokeswoman said.
"They should not be using peacetime customs methodology," the U.N.'s McGoldrick said. Instead, he argued, all relief material should get a blanket exemption from checks on arrival.
Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat appealed on Friday to international donors to send tents, tarpaulins and basic food supplies and said some of the items received were of no use.
"We have received things like tuna fish and mayonnaise. What good are those things for us? We need grains, salt and sugar," he told reporters.
Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy said the delayed U.S. contingent included at least 100 U.S. soldiers, lifting equipment and six military aircraft, two of them helicopters.
Nepali government officials have said efforts to step up the pace of delivery of relief material to remote areas were also frustrated by a shortage of supply trucks and drivers, many of whom had returned to their villages to help their families.
"Our granaries are full and we have ample food stock, but we are not able to transport supplies at a faster pace," said Shrimani Raj Khanal, a manager at the Nepal Food Corp.
Army helicopters have air-dropped instant noodles and biscuits to remote communities but people need rice and other ingredients to cook a proper meal, he said.
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