Nepal Earthquake: Travel Repercussions

Issue: Nepal Earthquake


Rescue and recovery operations continue in Nepal in the wake of an extremely powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu early April 25. The extent of damage is still being assessed; as of late April 27, more than 3,800 people have been confirmed killed in Nepal, although the casualty count is expected to continue rising significantly as access is restored to areas isolated by the quake. Additional casualties are likely in the ensuing aftershocks that continue to affect areas in Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and China. Catastrophic damage occurred in areas close to the epicenter, with the worst-hit areas including Gorkha, Dhading, Sindhupalchowk, and Kathmandu.


Airport Status

Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) is operational, with many airlines operating both scheduled and emergency services. Expect sporadic flight suspensions if aftershocks continue, as officials inspect the runway for damage. Between the large number of aircraft delivering aid and passenger planes evacuating civilians, the airport could sporadically be over capacity, necessitating the diversion of flights to airports in surrounding countries. Expect chaotic conditions as people attempt to procure tickets on booked flights, causing significant delays at check-in and security lines. Some embassies are providing shuttle services to KTM for citizens.


Pokhara Airport (PKR) is being used for military and relief flights, and may provide an alternative to KTM, when normal civilian operations resume.


Patna's Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Airport (PAT) in Bihar State, India, remains open, although the facility is reporting a number of flight delays.



Ground Transport

Landslides blocked several major roadways, including a main artery connecting Pokhara and Kathmandu, disrupting the delivery of emergency materials to Kathmandu Valley. Significant road damage is likely in and around the capital, where ground liquefaction may have occurred.

Expect very heavy traffic and possible restrictions at border crossings with India, which will be used as relief corridors as long as the highways into the Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara are passable. Indian and Chinese military have sent troops and aircraft to assist relief efforts, and may close roads to civilian vehicles.



Utilities and Provisions

Many ATMs reportedly continue to function; however, cash reserves will likely not be replenished for days. Bank branches are currently closed. Severe cellular and landline disruptions continue; communications could be disrupted for days. SMS text messages are more reliable than voice when mobile systems are compromised. Emergency services will likely remain overwhelmed until international aid groups establish operations. Hospitals may be unable to function without reliable power; at least one major hospital closed due to structural damage. Initial reports indicate that hospitals are overwhelmed and are running short of supplies, while many pharmacies remain closed. Representatives of the Nepal Electricity Authority indicated that disrupted power supply would likely be restored by May 1; as power is restored, it will likely be directed to hospitals, KTM, and essential services.

Supplies of potable water and nonperishable food are likely to run low, and markets are closed; looting is possible, as are significant security disturbances if price gouging occurs at markets that are still operational. Police and the military may not be able to provide adequate coverage to ensure public security in many areas outside central Kathmandu.



Health Threats

Cholera is endemic to Nepal, and cases of cholera and other waterborne diseases will likely increase as service disruptions prevent access to improved water sources. Where infrastructure damage has allowed standing water to accumulate, mosquito-borne diseases - including dengue fever and malaria - will likely increase, as well. Crowded conditions at refugee shelters and other remaining structures also present the ideal environment for common respiratory illnesses, such as measles and seasonal influenza.



Weather Forecast

Scattered thunderstorms are likely to continue through at least April 29, with the greatest accumulations likely in the Capital and Eastern development regions; additional landslides and flooding are possible in the affected areas due to the rainfall, likely increasing the risk of the spread of disease. Snow is possible at higher elevations. Aftershocks will likely cause further life-threatening avalanches. Inclement weather conditions could disrupt search-and-rescue operations at Everest base camps.




Most embassies have restricted nonessential consular services through May 1 to focus on providing aid to citizens. Many advise against all but essential travel to Nepal due to the risk of strong aftershocks, severely damaged infrastructure, and food, water, and medicine shortages.



Background and Analysis

The quake, which lasted more than one minute, occurred at a shallow depth of only about 15 km (9 miles) at 1156 NPT April 25. The epicenter was approximately 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu. Since then, there have been dozens of significant aftershocks of at least magnitude 4.5. Dozens of deaths in neighboring India and China have been blamed on the quake, which was the worst in Nepal since a magnitude-8.0 quake in 1934. The quake was felt as far away as Bangladesh.




Stockpile food and bottled water when possible. Use mosquito repellent containing at least 30-percent DEET and cover exposed skin to prevent insect-borne disease. Only consume sealed, bottled water, and ensure that food is properly handled and prepared. Frequently use hand sanitizer, and/or wash hands with soap and clean water. Do not enter obviously damaged buildings, and immediately vacate vulnerable structures and move to the nearest accessible open space away from multistoried structures if a strong aftershock occurs. Heed the instructions of authorities. Stay away from any open flames due to the potential for gas leaks. Do not attempt to drive anywhere in the Kathmandu Valley until local authorities clear roads and ensure that bridges are structurally intact. Consider walking to police stations, embassies, or major hotels, which may have better construction and be able to reopen and accommodate guests once aftershocks subside, before nightfall. Carry identification, and move about in groups for security reasons. Contact your diplomatic mission for emergency assistance.


As always, if you encounter a medical, security or any other type of emergency while traveling, contact Assist America 24/7 for assistance.



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