Norway rushes aid to quake victims

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As the death toll from Saturday’s killer quake in Nepal kept rising, Norway was joining international efforts to help survivors. Foreign Minister Børge Brende, a former head of the Norwegian Red Cross, had his priorities clear while he also worried about his own father, who was in Nepal himself on a hiking trip.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende surveys the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, and the recovery work underway to rebuild whole villages in the Philippines. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Astrid Sehl

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende has worked on major aid efforts before, in Haiti and here in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. Now he’s supporting aid efforts for Nepal, where his own father was when Saturday’s devastating earthquake hit. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Astrid Sehl

“Clean water, medicine and health care personnel for all the thousands of injured are what’s needed most,” said Brende, who returned to Norway over the weekend from an Arctic Council meeting in Canada to head straight for his Conservative Party’s annual national meeting at Gardermoen. Instead he was thrust right into the Nepal crisis, which held some personal drama for him as well.

‘Hit by two thoughts’
Brende’s father Knut was among more than 150 Norwegians in Nepal when the earthquake struck. The unusually sporty 76-year-old has gone hiking in the mountains of Nepal at least 10 times, his son told newspaper VG.

“When I first heard about the quake, I was hit by two thoughts,” Brende told VG. “One was how terrible this is for Nepal, which has been hit so hard many times before. The other was how my father was doing, since he was in Nepal to hike in the mountains.” It’s high season for tourism in Nepal, one of the hard-pressed country’s most important industries and sources of financial support.

He finally heard from his father after several hours. He’d been riding in a car on his way back to Kathmandu when the quake hit and rocks started rolling down the mountainsides. “‘Cars are crushed and homes have collapsed,'” Brende read from his father’s text message.

The elder Brende was uninjured and said he planned to join local aid efforts. “He is a retired engineer, and there can be some use for him,” said his son as he also announced initial emergency aid of NOK 30 million and set up a crisis team to help track down and care for other Norwegians in Nepal, and coordinate assistance for quake victims.

Embassy offers refuge
Church aid group Kirkens Nødhjelp was sending equipment to provide clean water and many other humanitarian organizations in Norway including Redd Barna (Save the Children) and the Red Cross launched fundraising efforts within hours and mobilized aid units.

Norway’s embassy in Kathmandu quickly turned into a refuge for stranded Norwegians who arrived seeking shelter. Mattresses were spread over the floors while others tried to sleep in the garden amidst aftershocks. Enja Sæthren, a 22-year-old Norwegian working for the UN’s food program in Nepal, told newspaper Dagsavisen how she and others who were uninjured were also joining aid efforts, with the UN organizing teams and setting up a temporary camp for at least some of those left homeless. She said food was to be flown in Monday morning.

The quake, which registered 7.9 on the Richter Scale, was confirmed to have killed more than 3,200 people by Monday morning and the death toll was still rising. Tens of thousands of others are injured, many seriously, and Brende stressed that it was most important to care for them. “Then we work on evacuating visitors, but that’s a lower priority,” said Brende, who has experience from running relief efforts for Haiti and the Philippines. “The other needs, for medical aid, are enormous.”

Included in the scores of Norwegians in Nepal were 80 students from a high school in Telemark and a missionary group, plus 19 mountain climbers on a trek to Mt Everest. Their tour operator was working on efforts to fly them out of areas now subject to rockslides and avalanches.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund