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The April 2015 Nepal earthquake (also known as the Gorkha earthquake) killed nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000. It occurred at on 25 April, with a magnitude of 7.8Mw or 8.1Ms and a maximum Mercalli Intensity of VIII (Severe). Its epicenter was east of Gorkha District at Barpak, Gorkha, and its hypocenter was at a depth of approximately 8.2 km (5.1 mi). It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake. The ground motion recorded in Kathmandu valley was of low frequency which, along with its occurrence at an hour where many people in rural areas were working outdoors, decreased the loss of property and human life.
Continued aftershocks occurred throughout Nepal at the intervals of 15-20 minutes, with one shock reaching a magnitude of 6.7 on 26 April at NST. The country also had a continued risk of landslides.
A major aftershock occurred on 12 May 2015 at with a moment magnitude (Mw) of 7.3. The epicenter was near the Chinese border between the capital of Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. More than 200 people were killed and over 2,500 were injured by this aftershock.
Map of the earthquake and aftershocks at 12 May, showing location of major historical earthquakes
The earthquake occurred on 25 April 2015 at NST (06:11:26 UTC) at a depth of approximately 15 km (9.3 mi) (which is considered shallow and therefore more damaging than quakes that originate deeper in the ground), with its epicentre approximately 34 km (21 mi) east-southeast of Lamjung, Nepal, lasting approximately fifty seconds. The earthquake was initially reported as 7.5 Mw by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) before it was quickly upgraded to 7.8 Mw. The China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC) reported the earthquake's magnitude to be 8.1 Ms. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said two powerful quakes were registered in Nepal at 06:11 UTC and 06:45 UTC. The first quake measured 7.8 Mw and its epicenter was identified at a distance of 80 km to the northwest of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Bharatpur was the nearest major city to the main earthquake, 53 km (33 mi) from the epicenter. The second earthquake was somewhat less powerful at 6.6 Mw. It occurred 65 km (40 mi) east of Kathmandu and its seismic focus lay at a depth of 10 km (6.2 mi) below the earth's surface. Over thirty-eight aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 Mw or greater occurred in the day following the initial earthquake, including the one of magnitude 6.8 Mw.
According to the USGS, the earthquake was caused by a sudden thrust, or release of built-up stress, along the major fault line where the Indian Plate, carrying India, is slowly diving underneath the Eurasian Plate, carrying much of Europe and Asia. Kathmandu, situated on a block of crust approximately 120 km (74 miles) wide and 60 km (37 miles) long, reportedly shifted 3 m (10 ft) to the south in a matter of just 30 seconds.
The risk of a large earthquake was well known beforehand. In 2013, in an interview with seismologist Vinod Kumar Gaur, The Hindu quoted him as saying, "Calculations show that there is sufficient accumulated energy [in the Main Frontal Thrust], now to produce an 8 magnitude earthquake. I cannot say when. It may not happen tomorrow, but it could possibly happen sometime this century, or wait longer to produce a much larger one." According to Brian Tucker, founder of a nonprofit organization devoted to reducing casualties from natural disasters, some government officials had expressed confidence that such an earthquake would not occur again. Tucker recounted a conversation he had had with a government official in the 1990s who said, "We don't have to worry about earthquakes anymore, because we already had an earthquake"; the previous earthquake to which he referred occurred in 1934.
M6+ Himalayan region earthquakes, 1900-2014
Nepal lies towards the southern limit of the diffuse collisional boundary where the Indian Plate underthrusts the Eurasian Plate, occupying the central sector of the Himalayan arc, nearly one-third of the 2,400 km (1,500 mi) long Himalayas. Geologically, the Nepal Himalayas are sub-divided into five tectonic zones from north to south and, east to west and almost parallel to sub-parallel. These five distinct morpho-geotectonic zones are: (1) Terai Plain, (2) Sub Himalaya (Sivalik Range), (3) Lesser Himalaya (Mahabharat Range and mid valleys), (4) Higher Himalaya, and (5) Inner Himalaya (Tibetan Tethys). Each of these zones is clearly identified by their morphological, geological, and tectonic features.
The convergence rate between the plates in central Nepal is about 45 mm (1.8 in) per year. The location, magnitude, and focal mechanism of the earthquake suggest that it was caused by a slip along the Main Frontal Thrust.
The earthquake's effects were amplified in Kathmandu as it sits on the Kathmandu Basin, which contains up to 600 m (2,000 ft) of sedimentary rocks, representing the infilling of a lake.
Based on a study published in 2014, of the Main Frontal Thrust, on average a great earthquake occurs every 750 ± 140 and 870 ± 350 years in the east Nepal region. A study from 2015 found a 700-year delay between earthquakes in the region. The study also suggests that because of tectonic stress buildup, the earthquake from 1934 in Nepal and the 2015 quake are connected, following a historic earthquake pattern. A 2016 study on historical great (M >= 8) earthquake pairs and cycles found that associated great earthquakes are likely to occur in the West China region through the 2020s.
A series of aftershocks began immediately after the mainshock, at intervals of 15-30 minutes, with one aftershock reaching 6.6Mw within 34 minutes of the initial quake. A major aftershock of magnitude 6.9 Mw occurred on 26 April 2015 in the same region at 12:54 NST (07:08 UTC), with an epicenter located about 17 km (11 mi) south of Kodari, Nepal. The aftershock caused fresh avalanches on Mount Everest and was felt in many places in northern India including Kolkata, Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, and Assam. The aftershock caused a landslide on the Koshi Highway which blocked the section of the road between Bhedetar and Mulghat.
A model of GeoGateway, based on a United States Geological Survey mechanism of a near-horizontal fault as well as location of aftershocks showed that the fault had an 11° dip towards the north, striking at 295°, 50 km (31 mi) wide, 150 km (93 mi) long, and had a dip slip of 3 m (9.8 ft). The USGS says the aftershock registered at a shallow depth of 10 km (6.2 mi).
Assuming that 25 April earthquake was the largest event in this seismic episode, Nepal could expect more than 30 aftershocks greater than magnitude 5 over the following month. As of 24 May 2016, 459 aftershocks had occurred with different epicenters and magnitudes equal to or above 4 Mw (out of which 51 aftershocks are equal to or above 5 Mw and 5 aftershocks above 6 Mw) and more than 20,000 aftershocks less than 4 Mw.
12 May 2015 earthquake
A second major earthquake occurred on 12 May 2015 at 12:50 NST with a moment magnitude (Mw) of 7.3Mw 18 km (11 mi) southeast of Kodari. The epicenter was near the Chinese border between the capital of Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. It struck at the depth of 18.5 km (11.5 miles). This earthquake occurred along the same fault as the original magnitude 7.8 earthquake of 25 April but further to the east. As such, it is considered to be an aftershock of the 25 April quake. Tremors were also felt in northern parts of India including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and other North-Indian States. At least 153 died in Nepal as a result of the aftershock and about 2,500 were injured. 62 others died in India, two in Bangladesh, and one in China.
Disastrous events in very poor and politically paralyzed nations such as Nepal often become a long drawn out chain of events, in that one disaster feeds into another for years or even decades upon end. The aftereffects from the earthquake have subsequent effects on myriad of seemingly unrelated aspects: human trafficking, labour cost and availability, rental and property cost burdens, urbanization, private and public debt burdens, mental health, politics, tourism, disease, and damage to the healthcare system. A survey some 30 months afterwards found only 12% of the reconstruction money was distributed, and those without land were locked out of financial support, exacerbating the social divide and feeding ever more marginalization.
More direct effects
Some disasters that came with the monsoon season were suspected to be related to the earthquake. There was a landslip on 11 June that claimed 53 lives. Meanwhile, a glacial lake had burst in particularly hard hit Solukhumbhu district. Whether or not the quake had contributed to such events is often unknown and unresearched, but certainly possible.
The earthquake killed more than 8,800 people in Nepal and injured nearly three times as many. The rural death toll may have been minimized by the fact that most villagers were outdoors working when the quake hit. As of 15 May, 6,271 people, including 1,700 from the 12 May aftershock, were still receiving treatment for their injuries. Nearly 3.5 million people were left homeless.
The example of this earthquake shows that loss calculations for hypothetical likely future earthquakes can be reasonably reliable. In 2005, the expected numbers of fatalities due to a hypothetical scenario earthquake near Kathmandu for M8.1 was published. The fatalities at that time were estimated between 21,000 and 42,000. A M7.8 earthquake happened on 25 April 2015 near Kathmandu. It killed only about 10,000 people because it was Saturday and the children were not in the collapsing school buildings. The original estimate was correct within a factor of 2.5 and would have been exactly correct, had it not been for the lucky break children got due to Saturday being a holiday.
Fatality reports by the media as a function of time, compared to the QLARM calculation (horizontal line) made after the rupture area of the Kathmandu earthquake had been mapped. Uncertainty extent given by the vertical solid line. The source for news reports is the NINTRAS web site of the Swiss Seismological Service. All reports, including lower values exceeded by others, are given.
After the rupture area of the Kathmandu 2015 earthquake had been derived and the intensities of shaking had been mapped, a line source model for losses could be constructed with energy being radiated along the entire rupture. The fatalities estimated in this way by QLARM agree with those reported in the end. The figure shows reports of fatalities as a function of time. News reports significantly underestimated the actual numbers of fatalities for several days.
The Himalayan Times reported that as many as 20,000 foreign nationals may have been visiting Nepal at the time of the earthquake, although reports of foreign deaths were relatively low.
A total of 78 deaths were reported in India - including 58 in Bihar, 16 in Uttar Pradesh, 3 in West Bengal and 1 in Rajasthan.
In the Langtang valley located in Langtang National Park, 329 people were reported missing after an avalanche hit the village of Ghodatabela and the village of Langtang. The avalanche was estimated to have been two to three kilometres wide. Ghodatabela was an area popular on the Langtang trekking route. The village of Langtang was destroyed by the avalanche. Smaller settlements on the outskirts of Langtang were buried during the earthquake, such as Chyamki, Thangsyap, and Mundu. Twelve locals and two foreigners were believed to have survived. Smaller landslides occurred in the Trishuli River Valley with reports of significant damage at Mailung, Simle, and Archale. On 4 May it was announced that 52 bodies had been found in the Langtang area, of which seven were of foreigners.
According to geological models, the frequency and intensity of future landslides in the Langtang Valley is due to increase in the coming decades. This is attributable directly to the effect of the earthquake, which caused widespread fracturing in the grounds of the Langtang area.
Travellers waiting on airport tarmac for flights after aftershocks forced the airport to open all exit doors.
Damage in the Basantpur Durbar Square.
Thousands of houses were destroyed across many districts of the country, with entire villages flattened, especially those near the epicenter.
The Tribhuvan International Airport serving Kathmandu was closed immediately after the quake, but was re-opened later in the day for relief operations and, later, for some commercial flights. It subsequently shut down operations sporadically due to aftershocks, and on 3 May was closed temporarily to the largest planes for fear of runway damage. During strong aftershocks, the airport opened all boarding-lounge exit doors onto the tarmac, allowing travelers who were waiting post security and immigration to flee to the open spaces of the runway tarmac. Many travelers remained outside as planes were delayed and the airport swelled to capacity. The airport facilities suffered damage and there was no running water or operating toilets for travelers waiting in the airport lounges. Few airport workers were at their posts; most were killed in the earthquake or had to deal with its aftereffects.
Flights resumed from Pokhara, to the west of the epicentre, on 27 April.
In Patan, the Char Narayan Mandir, the statue of Yog Narendra Malla, a pati inside Patan Durbar Square, the Taleju Temple, the Hari Shankar, Uma Maheshwar Temple and the Machhindranath Temple in Bungamati were destroyed. In Tripureshwar, the Kal Mochan Ghat, a temple inspired by Mughal architecture, was completely destroyed and the nearby Tripura Sundari also suffered significant damage. In Bhaktapur, several monuments, including the Phasi Deva temple, the Chardham temple and the 17th century Vatsala Durga Temple were fully or partially destroyed.
Outside the Valley, the Manakamana Temple in Gorkha, the Gorkha Durbar, the Palanchok Bhagwati, in Kabhrepalanchok District, the Rani Mahal in Palpa District, the Churiyamai in Makwanpur District, the Dolakha Bhimsensthan in Dolakha District, and the Nuwakot Durbar suffered varying degrees of damage. Historian Prushottam Lochan Shrestha stated, "We have lost most of the monuments that had been designated as World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur District, Nepal. They cannot be restored to their original states." The northeastern parts of India also received major damage. Heavy shocks were felt in the states of Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and others. Huge damage was caused to the property and the lives of the people.
Road damage in Nepal
Concern was expressed that harvests could be reduced or lost this season as people affected by the earthquake would have only a short time to plant crops before the onset of the Monsoon rains.
Nepal, with a total Gross Domestic Product of USD$19.921 billion (according to a 2012 estimate), is one of Asia's poorest countries, and has little ability to fund a major reconstruction effort on its own. Even before the quake, the Asian Development Bank estimated that it would need to spend about four times more than it currently does annually on infrastructure through to 2020 to attract investment. The U.S. Geological Survey initially estimated economic losses from the tremor at 9 percent to 50 percent of gross domestic product, with a best guess of 35 percent. "It's too hard for now to tell the extent of the damage and the effect on Nepal's GDP", according to Hun Kim, an Asian Development Bank (ADB) official. The ADB said on the 28th that it would provide a USD$3 million grant to Nepal for immediate relief efforts, and up to USD$200 million for the first phase of rehabilitation.
It was reported that the survivors were preyed upon by human traffickers involved in the supply of girls and women to the brothels of South Asia. These traffickers took advantage of the chaos that resulted from the aftermath of the earthquake. The most affected were women from poor communities who lost their homes.
Single women have had very little access to relief, according to a report by the Inter-party Women's Alliance (IPWA). The report also found that violence and rapes against women and minors has increased after the earthquake. Additionally, the earthquake has significantly affected certain groups of people. Tibeto-Burman peoples were hardest hit as they tend to inhabit the higher slopes of mountains as opposed to the central valleys, are less educated and connected. All of these factors make them harder to access. According to a government survey, malnutrition in children has worsened considerably some 3 months after the quake, with the most undernourished being Tamang and Chepang peoples. Before the quake, 41 percent of children under five were stunted, 29 percent were underweight and 11 percent were emaciated, according to the World Food Programme.
On 3 May, the hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia was trending worldwide on Twitter, condemning news covered by the Indian media as insensitive and inhumane to victims of the tragedy. The people of Nepal acknowledged the aid and effort put by the Indian armed forces, yet, at the same time, accused Indian news networks of carrying out "a public relations exercise" on behalf of the Indian government, of overemphasizing the role of the Indian Army, and of hogging space on relief planes where aid material or rescue or medical personnel could have been sent instead. Indian users responded with the hashtags #SorryNepal and #DontComeBackIndianMedia.
Though a feared mass cholera outbreak failed to materialize (there were sporadic reports), other outbreaks have been reported. At least 13 people have died of scrub typhus while 240 people have been taken ill since the disease was first diagnosed in the country in August 2015 until Sept 2016.
About 90% of soldiers from the Nepalese Army were sent to the stricken areas in the aftermath of the earthquake under Operation Sankat Mochan, with volunteers mobilized from other parts of the country. Rainfall and aftershocks were factors complicating the rescue efforts, with potential secondary effects like additional landslides and further building collapses being concerns. Impassable roads and damaged communications infrastructure posed substantial challenges to rescue efforts. Survivors were found up to a week after the earthquake.
As of 1 May international aid agencies like Médecins Sans Frontières and the Red Cross were able to start medically evacuating the critically wounded by helicopter from outlying areas, initially cut-off from the capital city, Kathmandu, and treating others in mobile and makeshift facilities. There was concern about epidemics due to the shortage of clean water, the makeshift nature of living conditions and the lack of toilets.
Emergency workers were able to identify four men who had been trapped in rubble, and rescue them, using advanced heartbeat detection. The four men were trapped in up to ten feet of rubble in the village of Chautara, north of Kathmandu. An international team of rescuers from several countries using FINDER devices found two sets of men under two different collapsed buildings.
Volunteers used crisis mapping to help plan emergency aid work. Local organization Kathmandu Living Labs helped coordinate local knowledge on the ground and collaborated with international crisis mapping and humanitarian organizations. Public volunteers from around the world participated in crowdmapping and added details into online maps. Information was mapped from data input from social media, satellite pictures and drones of passable roads, collapsed houses, stranded, shelterless and starving people, who needed help, and from messages and contact details of people willing to help. On-site volunteers verified these mapping details wherever they could to reduce errors.
Digital mappers, through the Kathmandu Living Labs, were already charting the densely populated Kathmandu Valley, and then focused on earthquake relief. "They were doing an inventory in the poorer communities where they didn't have a very good sense of the quality of buildings," says Cowan, whose students helped add Kathmandu's buildings and roads to OpenStreetMap. First responders, from Nepalese citizens to the Red Cross, the Nepal army and the United Nations used this data. The Nepal earthquake crisis mapping utilized experience gained and lessons learned about planning emergency aid work from earthquakes in Haiti and Indonesia.
India decided to donate $1 billion in cash and materials to Nepal. India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said "I am happy to announce Government of India's pledge for Nepal's post-earthquake reconstruction of Nepali Rupees 10,000 crores, equivalent to one billion US dollars, one fourth of it as Grant." The International Conference on Nepal's Reconstruction has been organised by the Nepalese government to raise funds for rebuilding the country.
Reports are also coming in of sub-standard relief materials and inedible food being sent to Nepal by many of the foreign aid agencies.
Need-fulfillment application, Getmii, launched a special pilot version in partnership with the Red Cross to double daily blood donors at the Kathmandu donation center using the app.
Imaging technologies such as satellites and smartphones, were instrumental to relief efforts in Nepal. GLIMS, group of volunteer scientists from nine nations, were able to provide rapid, systematic mapping of the damaged area, allowing the investigation of earthquake-induced geo-hazard processes which provided information to relief and recovery officials on the same timeframe as those operations were occurring.
Repair and reconstruction
UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture began strengthening damaged monuments in danger of collapsing before the monsoon season. Subsequent restoration of collapsed structures, including historic houses is planned. Architectural drawings exist that provide plans for reconstruction. According to UNESCO, more than 30 monuments in the Kathmandu Valley collapsed in the quakes, and another 120 incurred partial damage. Repair estimates are $160 million to restore 1,000 damaged and destroyed monasteries, temples, historic houses, and shrines across the country. The destruction is concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley. UNESCO designated seven groups of multi-ethnic monuments clustered in the valley as a single World Heritage Site, including Swayambhu, the Durbar squares of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur, and the Hindu temples of Pashupatinath and Changu Narayan. Damaged in the quakes were the structures in the three Durbar squares, the temple of Changu Narayan, and the 1655 temple in Sankhu. Drones fly above cultural heritage sites to provide 3D images of the damage to use for planning repairs.
UNICEF appealed for donations, as close to 1.7 million children had been driven out into the open, and were in desperate need of drinking water, psychological counsel, temporary shelters, sanitation and protection from disease outbreak. It distributed water, tents, hygiene kits, water purification tablets and buckets. Numerous other organizations provided similar support.
India was the first to respond within hours, being Nepal's immediate neighbour, with Operation Maitri which provided rescue and relief by its armed forces. It also evacuated its own and other countries' stranded nationals. India has been the largest aid donor to Nepal following the earthquake with a billion dollar support apart from other non-monetary reliefs extended. The United States, China and other nations have provided helicopters as requested by the Nepalese government.
On 26 April 2015, international aid agencies and governments mobilized rescue workers and aid for the earthquake. They faced challenges in both getting assistance to Nepal and ferrying people to remote areas as the country had few helicopters. Relief efforts were also hampered by Nepalese government insistence on routing aid through the Prime Minister's Disaster Relief Fund and its National Emergency Operation Center. After concerns were raised, it was clarified that "Non-profits" or NGOs already in the country could continue receiving aid directly and bypass the official fund. Aid mismatch and supply of "leftovers" by donors, aid diversion in Nepal, mistrust over control of the distribution of funds and supplies, congestion and customs delays at Kathmandu's airport and border check posts were also reported. On 3 May 2015, restrictions were placed on heavy aircraft flying in aid supplies after new cracks were noticed on the runway at the Tribhuvan airport (KTM), Nepal's only wide-body jet airport.
The list below gives a break-up of pledged donations, by each nation, along with aid in kind, delivered immediately.
o BAFLockheed C-130B aircraft with 10 tonnes of relief materials - tents, dry food, water, blankets, etc.
o Four cargo trucks carrying approximately 25 tonnes of essential relief materials for earthquake victims in Nepal left Dhaka. The cargoes will travel through Banglabandh-Fulbari-Panitanki-Kakarbhitta land route. The relief materials include 3000 cartons (12 tonne) of dry food and fruit juice donated by PRAN, and 5000 pieces of blankets donated by Brac, according to a press release of the Embassy of Nepal in Bangladesh.
o Bangladesh will provide at least one hundred thousand tons of rice and other relief materials including drinking water to help the earthquake victims in Nepal.
A 34-member team (6 military medical teams and foreign ministry officials). Stranded Bangladeshis airlifted.
o 8 tons of baby food
o Over 100 tons of medical supplies
o 75,000 vials of insulin
o Over 200 tons of water
o 100,000 bottles of water every day from the Indian Railways
o Hundreds of tons of food and dry rations
o 43 tons of relief material
o 10 tons of blankets
o Several tons of stretchers, tents
o A reverse osmosis (RO) plant
o Oxygen regenerators & cylinders
o 345 tons of relief material, dry food and essential medicines from the state governments of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh
Three IAFHercules and two El AlBoeing 747-400 jets carrying a joint IDF and MFA search-&-rescue team and 95 tons of equipment including a field hospital (with premature-babies ward), cutters, electronic sniffers, generators, and lighting equipment. The planes were also used for evacuation.
264 person search-&-rescue team, including physicians.
031100000 !$31,1 million (as of 25.05.2015). Including: $17.3 million (Norwegian government) and $13.8 million in donations to Norwegian aid organizations through aid concerts and donations from the Norwegian public.
Deployed NORSAR Search and Rescue team, consisting of search dogs, emergency medical personnel and firefighters and equipment and aid of 15.3 tonnes. Transported with the help of a Boeing 737-800 of Norwegian Air Shuttle.
2 aircraft with 60 tons of relief materials, such as food, medicines, power generators, and tents; 2 additional aircraft with 120 tons of relief materials, in addition to a field hospital provided by Qatari Red Crescent
o 1000 tents
o Food packages for 230 families (Rice 10 kg, bean 1 kg, salt 1 kg, oil, Nepal noodle 1 kg, 10 vitamin tablets etc. per a package)
o 2.4 tons of rice, 320 bottles of vegetable oil, salts for 740 villagers
42 search and rescue workers including 15 medics and two assistants. Two sniffer dogs.
SLAFC-130 Hercules flight and Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A330 flight with 17 tonnes of medicine, engineering, signal and ordnance equipment, supportive transport requirements, water bottles, health accessories, dry rations, and water purification tablets, etc.
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^Hayes, G. P., et al. (2015), Rapid characterization of the 2015 Mw 7.8 Gorkha, Nepal, earthquake sequence and its seismotectonic context, Seismol. Res. Lett., 86(6), 1557-1567.
^Martin, S. S., S. E. Hough, and C. Hung (2015), Ground motions from the 2015 M7.8 Gorkha, Nepal, earthquake constrained by a detailed assessment of macroseismic data, Seismol. Res. Lett., 86(6), 1524-1532.
^Wyss, M. (2017). Four loss estimates for the Gorkha M7.8 earthquake, 25 April 2015, before and after it occurred, Natural Hazards, Special Issue, doi:10.1007/s11069-016-2648-7.