Death toll in Nepal quake tops 1,900

As the death toll in the earthquake approaches 2,000, countries are responding to Nepal’s appeal for help.

People clear rubble in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was severely damaged by an earthquake on 25 April, 2015. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG/KATHMANDU - As the death toll in the Nepal earthquake approaches 2,000 many countries have responded to the mountainous nation's appeal for help.

Yesterday a 7.9 magnitude quake hit near the capital of Kathmandu flattening homes, buildings and temples then causing widespread damage across the region.

The Indian government has sent several relief and rescue aircrafts into Nepal carrying mobile clinics, food, tents, water and blankets.

Two other aircrafts are expected to land later today.

Britain, Germany and Spain have also pledged support and assistance, with Norway promising to provide $3.9 million in humanitarian aid.

President Jacob Zuma and the South African government have sent their support to the people of Nepal.

The International Relations Department's Clayson Monyela said, "The people of South Africa are standing with the people of Nepal and they are in our thoughts and prayers and we hope the international community will rally behind that nation."

The major earthquake unleashed an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing 17 people and raising fears for other climbers on the world's highest peak.

A man is at the base camp waiting to be rescued.

"When it hit there were a lot of rocks that hit the camp so right now we are all in groups of camps."

WATCH: Massive earthquake rocks Nepal.

NEPALESE DIG WITH BARE HANDS FOR QUAKE SURVIVORS

Rescuers dug with their bare hands and bodies piled up in Nepal on Sunday after the earthquake devastated the heavily crowded Kathmandu valley.

Army office Santosh Nepal led a group of rescuers that worked all night to open a passage into a collapsed building in the capital of Kathmandu. They had to use pick axes because bulldozers could not get through the ancient city's narrow streets.

"We believe there are still people trapped inside," he told Reuters, pointing at concrete debris and twisted reinforcement rods that was once a three-storey residential building.

Among the capital's landmarks destroyed in the earthquake was the 60-metre Dharahara Tower, built in 1832 for the queen of Nepal, with a viewing balcony that had been open to visitors for the last 10 years.

A jagged stump was all that was left of the lighthouse-like structure. As bodies were pulled from the ruins, a policeman said up to 200 people had been trapped inside.

Bodies were still arriving at one hospital in Kathmandu, where police officer Sudan Shreshtha said his team had brought 166 corpses overnight.

"I am tired and exhausted, but I have to work and have the strength," Shreshtha told Reuters as an ambulance brought three more victims to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital.

Bodies were heaped in a dark room; some covered with cloth, some not. A boy aged about seven lay, his face half missing and his stomach bloated like a football. The stench of death was overpowering.

PEOPLE STILL TRAPPED

The earthquake, centred 80km east of the second city, Pokhara, was all the more destructive for being shallow.

Rescue operations had still not begun in towns in some remote areas.

Across the city, rescuers scrabbled through destroyed buildings, among them ancient, wooden Hindu temples.

"I can see three bodies of monks trapped in the debris of a collapsed building near a monastery," Indian tourist Devyani Pant told Reuters. "We are trying to pull the bodies out and look for anyone who is trapped."

Neighbouring India, where 44 people were reported killed in the quake and its aftershocks, sent military aircraft to Nepal with medical equipment and relief teams. It also said it had dispatched 285 members of its National Disaster Response Force.

In Tibet, the death toll climbed to 17, according to a tweet from China's state news agency, Xinhua.

International aid groups readied staff to go to Nepal to help provide clean water, sanitation and emergency food, while the United States, Britain and Pakistan were among countries providing search-and-rescue experts.

More than 1,000 climbers were on Everest at the start of their season when disaster struck.

Romanian climber Alex Gavan tweeted on Saturday that there had been a "huge earthquake then huge avalanche" at Everest base camp, forcing him to run for his life.

In a later tweet he made a desperate appeal for a helicopter to fly in and evacuate climbers who had been hurt: "Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap."

In the Annapurna mountain range, where scores were killed in the nation's worst trekking accident last year, many hikers were stranded after the quake, according to messages on social media, but no deaths there had been reported.

Nepal, sandwiched between India and China, has had its share of natural disasters. Its worst earthquake in 1934 killed more than 8,500 people.