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KATHMANDHU, Nepal — An American doctor helping victims of the Nepal earthquake has described how surgeons in one hospital worked by flashlight in a darkened operating theater even as aftershocks rattled the country.
Chet Sutterlin, from Florida, said medics at Kathmandu’s Bir Hospital continued to treat patients despite failing power supplies and the threat of more tremblors.
“There was a tremor — I didn’t feel it, but the power went out — and people were scrambling around the operating room in the dark with surgeries in process,” he told NBC News. “Surgeons were operating using flashlight.”
The spinal surgeon traveled to Nepal after the devastating quake, which has killed at least 8,150 people and destroyed 600,000 homes. A regular mountain climber and visitor to the country, he responded to appeals for help made to his U.S.-based non-profit, Spinal Health International.
He said many quake victims had suffered broken bones, including some with a fractured spine.
“People either had things falling on them or they jumped from second floor windows or higher because they were so scared,” Sutterlin said.
The quake — and a massive aftershock that struck on Tuesday — had reduced many homes and buildings to rubble and left thousands of others unsafe.
NBC News witnessed Sutterlin performing triage on dozens of patients who were forced to evacuate another Kathmandhu hospital and were waiting for treatment under a tarp in a shaded area on a nearby street.
He gave an inflatable splint to a girl with a broken leg.
“It was pandemonium,” he said. “There was a mixture of patients from the hospital and people who had just turned up hoping for treatment and lots of family members hanging out.
“The girl had a fractured tibia which was obviously unstable and she was in a lot of pain. It was a basic principle to immobilize the injury to prevent further damage.”
He said he expected more devastating earthquakes in the future and the situation could deteriorate if diseases take hold in the chaos.
“These are very resilient people,” Sutterlin said. “They’ve got nothing but they’re going to survive and they’re going to rebuild.
“If they have problems with drinking water and infectious disease then it’s going to get worse before it gets better but they're going to survive. They really appreciate the international help they have received so far.”