128 dead in Nepal earthquake and officials say toll expected to rise

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Helicopters and ground troops rushed to help people hurt in a strong earthquake that shook northwestern Nepal districts just before midnight Friday, killing at least 128 people and injuring dozens more, officials said Saturday.

Authorities said the death toll was expected to rise, noting that communications were cut off with many places.

As day broke, rescue helicopters flew into the region to help out and security forces on the ground were digging out the injured and dead from the rubble, Nepal police spokesman Kuber Kadayat said.

Troops were also clearing roads and mountain trails that were blocked by landslides triggered by the earthquake. Helicopters flew in medical workers and medicines to the hospitals there.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal also flew in on a helicopter with a team of doctors. Dahal led an armed communist revolt in 1996-2006 that began from the districts that were hit by the quake.

In Jajarkot district, where the quake’s epicenter was, 92 people were confirmed dead and another 55 injured. Kadayat said.

The quake killed at least 36 people in neighboring Rukum district, where numerous houses collapsed, and at least 85 injured people already had been taken to the local hospital, he said.

Security officials worked with villagers all throughout the night in the darkness to pull the dead and injured from fallen houses.

The quake, which hit when many people already were asleep in their homes, was felt in India’s capital, New Delhi, more than 500 miles away.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake had a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 and occurred at a depth of 11 miles. Nepal’s National Earthquake Monitoring & Research Center said its epicenter was at Jajarkot, which is about 250 miles northeast of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.

Earthquakes are common in mountainous Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015 killed some 9,000 people and damaged about 1 million structures.