The death toll in Nepal's earthquake could reach 10,000, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said Tuesday, ordering intensified rescue efforts and appealing for foreign supplies of tents and medicines.
"The government is doing all it can for rescue and relief on a war footing," Koirala told Reuters in an interview. "It is a challenge and a very difficult hour for Nepal."
Eight million people have been affected by the earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday, the United Nations says, with aid pledges pouring in slowly for the victims.
1.4 million are in need of food aid and more than half of them were people living near the epicenter of the quake in poor quality rural housing, according to the latest UN statement.
International aid has finally begun arriving in the Himalayan nation of 28 million people but disbursement is slow.
A home ministry official put the latest death toll at 4,349. If the death toll does reach 10,000, that would be even higher than the 8,500 killed in a massive 1934 quake.
The quake also triggered a massive avalanche that buried 17 climbers at the Mount Everest base camp. All the remaining stranded climbers helicoptered to safety.
Meanwhile, more than 4,500 people have volunteered to examine 14,000 square kilometers of satellite imagery collected over Nepal to help relief efforts. They will tag damaged buildings, roads and other areas to help disaster teams on the ground.
The official said the volunteers had thus far identified 21,975 areas for relief workers, including 3,128 damaged buildings and 1,129 damaged roads.
A series of aftershocks, severe damage from the quake, creaking infrastructure and a lack of funds have slowed rescue efforts in the impoverished and mountainous country sandwiched between India and China.
Hundreds of Nepalis, angered and frustrated by the slow response, were digging through rubble themselves to find the remains of their loved ones.
"Waiting for help is more tortuous than doing this ourselves," said Pradip Subba, searching for the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law in the debris of Kathmandu's historic Dharahara tower, a 19th century minaret that collapsed on Saturday.
"Our hands are the only machine right now," said the 27-year-old, part of a group of locals pulling out blocks of concrete with cloth masks over their faces to ward off the stench of rotting bodies. "There is just no one from the government or the army to help us."
Many people across Nepal slept in the open for a third night, their homes either flattened or threatened by tremors that spread more fear among a traumatised population.
Hospitals are full to overflowing, while water, food and power are scarce, raising fears of waterborne diseases. The World Health Organization announced that the first of 20 emergency medical teams registered with them were arriving to support Nepali doctors.
While overwhelmed officials urge foreign countries to provide more special relief materials and medical teams, the authorities are struggling to deliver relief further afield due to the crush at the main international airport.
The situation is worse in remote rural areas. Highways have been blocked by landslides, and many villages and communities are without water and electricity, villagers surviving on salvaged food and with no outside help.
Senior disaster management official Rameshwor Dangal said the death toll in Nepal could jump once rescuers discovered the full extent of devastation in villages outside Kathmandu.
Analysts point out that because of a growing population and rapid urbanisation in Nepal in the last 60 years, many frail buildings were created with little seismic resistance. Although this earthquake was expected, the devastation and destruction it caused was unmitigated.