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Nepal earthquake death toll climbs to 69

KATHMANDU - At least 69 people were killed and dozens injured in Nepal on Friday when a strong earthquake struck the western area of Jajarkot, with witnesses saying houses in the area collapsed and buildings as far as New Delhi, India, shook.

Nepal's National Seismological Center said the quake was a magnitude 6.4 but the German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ) later downgraded the magnitude to 5.7 and the US Geological Survey pegged it as a magnitude 5.6.

Local officials said it had not been possible to establish contact in the area near the epicenter in Jajarkot, a hilly district with a population of 190,000 and villages scattered in remote hills.

Jajarkot local official Harish Chandra Sharma said at least 34 people had been killed in his district while in neighboring Rukum West district, police official Namaraj Bhattarai said at least 35 deaths had been reported.

"Rescue and search teams have to clear roads blocked by dry landslides due to the earthquake to reach the affected areas," Bhattarai said.

Ramidanda, where the epicenter lies, has not been reached by authorities yet.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal expressed deep sorrow at the loss of life and property in the quake and ordered security agencies to launch immediate rescue and relief operations, in a post on social media X, formerly known as Twitter.

At least 20 people were rushed to hospital with injuries, Jajarkot district official Suresh Sunar told Reuters by phone.

"I am out in the open myself. We are collecting details but due to cold and night it is difficult to get information from remote areas," he told Reuters.

Nepal's National Seismological Center said the quake occurred at 11:47 p.m. (1802 GMT) in Jajarkot district of Karnali province. Jajarkot is about 500 km (310 miles) west of the capital Kathmandu.

Local media footage showed crumbled facades of multi-storied brick houses, with large pieces of furniture scattered.

Tremors were felt in neighboring districts and as far away as Kathmandu, residents said.

"Houses have collapsed. People rushed out of their homes. I am out in the crowd of terrified residents. We are trying to find details of damages," police official Santosh Rokka told Reuters by phone.

The earthquake shook buildings as far as New Delhi, about 600 km (375 miles) away, according to Reuters witnesses. Videos on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, showed people running into the street as some buildings were evacuated.

In 2015, about 9,000 people were killed in two earthquakes in Nepal. Whole towns, centuries-old temples and other historic sites were reduced to rubble, with more than a million houses destroyed, at a cost to the economy of $6 billion. —Reuters