Bernat Armangue / AP Photo

Death toll mounts as Nepal searches for earthquake survivors

More than 3,200 people believed dead in 7.8-magnitude earthquake that has devastated the Himalayan nation

Rescuers in Nepal are searching for survivors of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 3,200 people, including 17 on Mount Everest, digging through rubble in the devastated capital, Kathmandu.

Residents of Kathmandu were jolted by a fresh 6.7-magnitude aftershock on Sunday that compounded the worst disaster to hit the Himalayan nation in more than 80 years.

Overnight tremors had forced residents to spend the night trying to sleep out on the streets and open ground in makeshift tents.

"We don't feel safe at all. There have been so many aftershocks. It doesn't stop," said Rajendra Dhungana, 34, who spent the day with his niece's family for her cremation at the Pashuputi Nath Temple in Katmandu. "I've watched hundreds of bodies burn. I never thought I'd see so many."

Acrid, white smoke rose above Nepal's most revered Hindu temple, where dozens of bodies were being cremated at any given time.

As planeloads of supplies, doctors and relief workers arrived from neighboring countries, journalists reported on social media that aftershocks forced some aircraft to circle the Kathmandu airport while waiting to land.

Aftershocks were also reported in New Delhi, the capital of neighboring India, where the earthquake killed at least 50 people in the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Relief agencies have already warned that as many as six million people might be affected in Nepal by Saturday's disaster.

Hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley, the quake-affected region that is home to 2.5 million people, were overcrowded, running out of emergency supplies and space to store corpses, the United Nations said in a statement.

At overstretched hospitals, where medics were also treating patients in hastily erected tents, staff members were forced to flee from buildings for fear of further collapses.

International aid groups and governments have sent emergency crews to reinforce those trying to find survivors in Kathmandu, and in rural areas cut off by blocked roads and patchy phone networks.

The Red Cross said it was concerned about the fate of rural villages close to the epicenter of the quake northwest of Kathmandu.

Rescuers and medical staff were also making their way to other parts of the country, but the congestion at the airport has slowed down their deployment.

"Roads have been damaged or blocked by landslides and communication lines are down preventing us from reaching local Red Cross branches to get accurate information," said Jagan Chapagain, Red Cross Asia Pacific director.

As aid groups received the first word from remote mountain villages, the reports suggested that many communities perched on mountainsides were devastated or struggling to cope.

Landslides hindered rescue teams that tried to use mountain trails to reach those in need, said Prakash Subedi, chief district official in the Gorkha region, where the quake was centered.

"Villages like this are routinely affected by landslides, and it's not uncommon for entire villages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 people to be completely buried by rock falls," said Matt Darvas, a member of the aid group World Vision. "It will likely be helicopter access only."

Most areas are without power and water, but with Kathmandu airport reopening, rescue flights began arriving. Workers are sending out tents and relief goods in lorries and helicopters.

Authorities are now reporting at least 2,500 people dead, including 1,152 in the capital, and only 799 bodies handed over to their families. The number of casualties is expected to climb as reports come in from far-flung areas, said Laxmi Dhakal, a home ministry official.

Among the dead are 17 who were struck by an avalanche on Mount Everest that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts.

At least 5,000 people were injured across Nepal.

Snowfall on Saturday thwarted efforts to remove survivors from the Everest base camp, where about 100 mountaineers are believed to be stuck. Rescue planes and helicopters began removing the injured to Kathmandu on Sunday.

The quake destroyed expanses of the oldest neighborhoods of Kathmandu, and was strong enough to be felt all across parts of India, Bangladesh, Tibet and Pakistan.

Kathmandu's historic nine-story Dharahara tower, a major tourist attraction and a UNESCO-recognized historical monument, was among the buildings toppled by Saturday's earthquake.

The disaster is likely to put a huge strain on the resources of Nepal, best known for Everest, the highest mountain in the world. The country’s economy relies heavily on tourism.

The world reacted quickly to the disaster, offering money, relief materials, equipment, expertise and rescue teams.

Among the first to move in was Nepal's neighbor India, with which it has close political, cultural and religious ties.

Indian air force planes landed on Sunday with 43 tons of relief material, including tents and food, and nearly 200 rescuers, said Vikas Swarup, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesperson.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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