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India swings into action, rushes relief personnel, material to Nepal

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TNN | Apr 26, 2015, 08.11 AM IST

NEW DELHI: India jumped to Nepal's rescue in record time, after a massive earthquake on Saturday flattened large parts of Kathmandu valley and Pokhara leaving a trail of death and destruction.

Within the first few minutes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav and PM Sushil Koirala. In an early tweet, PM said, "Spoke to PM Sushil Koirala, who is in transit in Bangkok on his way to Kathmandu. Assured all support & assistance during this tough time."

Modi led from the front, monitoring and directing India's response to the Himalayan tragedy directly. "As directed by the PM, we have mobilised all resources to support Nepal," said defence minister Manohar Parrikar, adding that all Army units spread across north India have also been asked to help in the rescue and relief operations in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other affected regions.

"We are offering full assistance to Nepal," foreign secretary S Jaishankar told journalists. The Indian government, he said, responded to a broad-based request from the Nepal government - for rescue teams, medical teams and damage assessment teams.

By Sunday, the government would bring back 250 Indians stuck in the disaster zone, 52 of whom were brought back on Saturday night. India has dispatched 260 relief personnel and 20 tonnes of relief material to Nepal.

The IAF responded swiftly, dispatching four aircraft and two helicopters with NDRF personnel, medical teams, relief supplies and sniffer dogs to the landlocked country by Saturday evening. Jaishankar said by Sunday India would have five helicopters in Kathmandu and five in Pokhara for local rescue and airlift operations as well as food distribution.

A major-general, J S Sandhu, from the Army headquarters was also deputed to Nepal on Saturday evening to oversee and coordinate the operations in the Himalayan country. "My primary task is to be the point-person between the Indian armed forces and the Nepalese Army, check out what is required and how the resources and relief material being sent from India are deployed there," he told TOI, just before boarding a C-17 headed for Kathmandu.

The first C-130J Super Hercules, with 40 NDRF personnel and 3.5 tonnes, took off from the Hindon airbase for Kathmandu at 3.55 pm for the 90-minute flight to Kathmandu. It was followed by two C-17 Globemaster and one IL-76 aircraft, with over 250 NDRF personnel, 43 tonnes of relief material, five sniffer dogs and a RAMT (rapid aeromedical team) with medical equipment and 24 doctors and paramedics. Two Mi-17s also left for Nepal from Gorakhpur, but had to return due to bad weather.

Jaishankar said India hopes to do a damage assessment of the area by Sunday, following which New Delhi would dispatch more targeted rescue and rehabilitation assistance. "We also hope tomorrow morning to have specialized engineering teams with rescue equipment going in from Bhatinda," he added.

The Army, too, was keeping two field hospitals and two engineer task-forces on the stand-by for rushing to Nepal, with Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag in regular touch with his Nepalese counterpart to extend any help to the Himalayan country.

Jaishankar said, "As soon as the earthquake happened, our embassy got in touch with the Government of Nepal and we also, the Ministry of External affairs, were in touch with the embassy of Nepal."

The government asked citizens to respond with details of family or friends who may be in Nepal. "We have set up a helpline in the ministry; the numbers have been put out. We would also request that if there are people who know that their relatives are in Nepal to send us their details. So, there is a e-mail address which is controlroom@mea.gov.in. if anybody who would like to keep us informed about their relatives and give us their contact numbers that would be very helpful for us," Jaishankar said.

The government also announced that all calls made to Nepal through the BSNL network would be charged on local rates for the next three days.