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Nepal Earthquake: Aid Workers Warn Of Desperate Chopper Shortage

Top aid officials and military officers have warned that more helicopters are desperately needed to get help to earthquake-struck Nepal.
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/ Source: NBC News

Top aid officials and military officers have warned that more helicopters are desperately needed to get assistance to the farthest reaches of earthquake-struck Nepal.

Twenty-eight countries are helping in the rescue effort, but "there are 20 helicopters operating here, most of them Indian,” Air Vice Marshal Upkarjit Singh of the Indian Air Force told NBC News.

The choppers are crucial to moving rescue efforts forward: For example, a 30-minute helicopter ride to the town of Charikot in northeastern Nepal would otherwise be a five-day haul by road. And many roads are blocked by landslides, making it difficult if not impossible for supply trucks to get through.

Nepal's National Emergency Operation Centre said Saturday that the death toll had risen to 7,040 from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake. The U.N. has estimated the quake affected 8.1 million people — more than a fourth of Nepal's population of 27.8 million.

Ertharin Cousin, the U.N. World Food Program's executive director, called for more helicopters to help distribute aid in the mountainous country.

"We definitely need more helicopters," she told The Associated Press on Saturday.

"Even seven days in this is still very much considered the early days, because there are people we still haven't reached,” she said. “So we need helicopters to reach them."

But getting more of them to the disaster zone is not easy, according to the U.S.’s Lt. Col. Gianstefano Martin.

“Parking, refueling and other logistical factors have to be kept in mind,” he said.

There could be some relief in sight: The Nepali army told NBC News that it would be receiving as many as eight additional military helicopters from the U.S. as early as this weekend.

There were only four deployments in eight hours on Friday from the Khatmandu Army Aviation airbase. Much of the aid — around 470 tons distributed by Friday morning — hasn’t been distributed, according to Nepal's military.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.