Kathmandu, Nepal: Runway damage forced Nepalese authorities to close the main airport Sunday to large aircraft delivering aid to millions of people following the massive earthquake, but U.N. officials said the overall logistics situation was improving.
The death toll climbed to 7,057, including six foreigners and 45 Nepalese found over the weekend on a popular trekking route, said government administrator Gautam Rimal. The victims included a French national, an Indian, four other foreigners and Nepalese guides, hotel owners, workers and porters.
The main runway was temporarily closed to big planes because of damage. It was built to handle only medium-size jetliners, but not the large military and cargo planes that have been flying aid supplies, food, medicines, and rescue and humanitarian workers, said Birendra Shrestha, the manager of Tribhuwan International Airport, located on the outskirts of Kathmandu.
There have been reports of cracks on the runway and other problems at the only airport capable of handling jetliners.
Despite the setback, the U.N. coordinator for Nepal, Jamie McGoldrick, said the bottlenecks in aid delivery were slowly disappearing.
"I think the problem is there, but it's actually diminishing," he said, adding the Nepalese government eased customs and other bureaucratic hurdles on humanitarian aid following complaints from the U.N.
"The government has taken note of some of the concerns that we've expressed to them and they've addressed those both at customs and the actual handling," he said.
Airport congestion was only the latest complication in global efforts to aid people in the wake of the April 25 quake, the impoverished country's biggest and most destructive in eight decades.
People in Nepal — both in remote villages and the capital, Kathmandu — have complained about not seeing any rescue workers or international aid and about a lack of temporary shelters, with many sleeping out in the open because of fears of aftershocks bringing down their damaged homes.
U.N. humanitarian officials said that they were increasingly worried about the spread of disease. They said more helicopters were needed to reach isolated mountain villages that were hard to access even before the quake.
The true extent of the damage from the earthquake is still unknown as reports keep filtering in from remote areas, some of which remain entirely cut off. The U.N. says the quake affected 8.1 million people — more than a quarter of Nepal's 28 million people.
The government said Sunday that the quake had killed 7,057 people. Laxi Dhakal, a Home Ministry official, said hopes of finding survivors had faded dramatically. "Unless they were caught in an air pocket, there is not much possibility," he said.
Among the latest fatalities to be counted were the 51 people, including six foreigners, whose remains were found in the Langtang Valley in Rasuwa district, nearly 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Kathmandu.
The area, with a dozen inns near the trekking trail, was buried by a landslide after the earthquake.
Nepal has been shaken by more than 70 aftershocks following the quake, and its people remain on edge. One brief aftershock Saturday afternoon shook the only paved road in the village of Pauwathok. Residents screamed and began to run, then stopped when the tremor eased.
The small village is located in the district of Sindupalchok, where more deaths have been recorded than anywhere else in Nepal — 2,560, compared to 1,622 in Kathmandu. The U.N. says up to 90 percent of the houses in Sindupalchok have been destroyed.