Breaking News: 7.9 magnitude earthquake hits Nepal, death toll rises to over 700

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Photo Courtesy: CNN Photo

Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) – A 7.8 magnitude earthquake centered less than 50 miles from Kathmandu rocked Nepal with devastating force Saturday, toppling homes, temples and historic buildings and leaving at least 1,457 people dead, authorities said.

The injured were being treated outside hospitals in chaotic scenes. Residents, terrorized by a series of strong aftershocks, huddled outdoors. Historic buildings in Kathmandu lay in rubble on the ground.

The death toll was reported by Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs. Given that the rescue effort is still in its early stages and that people in outlying areas may well have been affected, as well, it seems possible the number could rise.

Kathmandu, which sits in a valley surround by the Himalayas, has a population of 1 million people.

People who experienced the quake used the telephone to describe to CNN scenes of confusion, chaos, fear and suffering.

CNN’s Manesh Shrestha, who was hurt himself, said he saw five bodies at a hospital to which he walked to seek treatment. People with severe injuries were lying outside, with doctors administering CPR to at least one person, Shrestha said.

It’s quite chaotic,” he said by phone. “People are wailing, crying.”

Shrestha, who needed stitches, was turned away because other people were in more dire need of medical care. He said he saw people with broken bones and severe head injuries.

Avalanches were reported on Mount Everest, sending mountaineers running for cover.

“Everest base camp huge earthquake then huge avalanche from pumori,” Twitter user Alex Gavan said. “Running for life from my tent. Unhurt. Many many people up the mountain.”

The quake, which struck at 11:41 local time (05:51 GMT). occurred at a depth of 9.3 miles, which is considered shallow and potentially more damaging than a quake centered deeper under the earth’s crust. It was reported by people in the area has having lasted a very long time. On person said he felt as if he were in a ship on rough seas.

The U.S. Geological Survey had at first rated the temblor at 7.5 magnitude but later upgraded the strength. It reported aftershocks at strengths of 6.6 and 5.1, among others.

In all, the USGS said, at least 16 aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or greater had been felt in Nepal so far. A witness told CNN by phone that people were gathered outdoors in fear.

People experienced quake as ‘severe’ to ‘violent’

The force of the quake was experienced by people who contacted the USGS as “severe” to “violent,” nearly the highest rating on the intensity scale. Tremors were felt as far as New Delhi, more than 200 miles away in neighboring India. An official said it was felt there at magnitude 5.0.

The shaking was rated as “strong” to “severe” on the USGS ShakeMap. CNN sister network CNN-IBN reported that buildings were down and roads were out.

Kanak Masni, a journalist in Kathmandu, told CNN by phone that a historic building in Kathmandu called Dharahara — also known as Bhimsen Tower — had tumbled down. The building, built in 1832, was nearly 63 meters tall, and provided visitors with a panoramic view of of the Kathmandu valley.

Masni told CNN by telephone that this appeared to be “the most massive earthquake to hit central Nepal since 1934.” In that quake, which was 8.0 magnitude and centered near Mount Everest, more than 10,000 people were reported killed.

IBN reporter K. Dhiksit looked out his window in Kathmandu and saw the walls of many buildings down. As he watched, an aftershock rattled the street. He heard “big booming sounds,” and saw people fleeing into the streets.

Photos of caved-in and toppled buildings appeared on social media.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet, “We are in the process of finding more information and are working to reach out to those affected, both at home & in Nepal.”