Kathmandu shuts airport to big jets

Runway damage forced Nepalese authorities to close the main airport yesterday to large aircraft delivering aid to millions of people following the massive earthquake, but UN officials said the overall logistics situation was improving.

The death toll climbed to 7,250, including six foreigners and 45 Nepalese found over the weekend on a popular trekking route, said government administrator Gautam Rimal.

Nepal’s tourist police said 57 foreigners were killed in the April 25 quake, and 109 are still missing, including 12 Russians and nine Americans.

The main runway was temporarily closed to big planes because of damage. It was built to handle only medium-size jetliners, but not the large military and cargo planes that have been flying in aid supplies, food, medicines, and rescue and humanitarian workers, said Birendra Shrestha, manager of Tribhuwan International Airport outside Kathmandu.

There have been reports of cracks on the runway and other problems at the only airport capable of handling jetliners. “You’ve got one runway, and you’ve got limited handling facilities, and you’ve got the ongoing commercial flights,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN co-ordinator for Nepal.

“You put on top of that massive relief items coming in, the search and rescue teams that has clogged up this airport. And I think once they put better systems in place, I think that will get better.”

He said that the aid delivery bottlenecks were slowly disappearing, and the Nepalese government eased customs and other bureaucratic hurdles on humanitarian aid after UN complaints.

The UN says the quake affected 8.1 million people —more than a quarter of Nepal’s 28m people.

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