A Nepali family sits in front of their damaged home in the southern Bara district after a freak storm wreaked devastation in the region
Bara (Nepal) (AFP) - A freak storm tore down houses and overturned cars and trucks as it swept across southern Nepal killing at least 27 people and leaving more than 600 injured, officials said Monday as a major rescue operation gathered pace.
High winds battered the rural district of Bara and adjoining areas late Sunday. Five children were among the dead, the home ministry said, as rescuers battled to get relief supplies to the region and evacuate injured.
The winds were so fierce that they overturned a bus carrying passengers, witnesses said. Houses, trees and electricity pylons were all toppled in the storm.
Whole villages have been flattened and families were left mourning the death of relatives killed by trees and the debris, an AFP photographer in the stricken region said. Overturned cars blocked some roads.
Injured victims flocked to local hospitals who were unable to cope, with some people were airlifted to Kathmandu for treatment.
"People who went back into their houses for shelter were crushed," said Jay Prakash Das, a Bara resident.
"We rushed out to help. A man had died right next to our building under a tree. People had fractured bones and many had head injuries," Das added.
- Hot and cold -
"I've never seen anything like this. The winds took away everything, my home and my family," Ram Babu Patel, 45, whose wife was killed in the storm, told AFP.
"I was at home getting ready for dinner when the storm hit -- it was unbelievable. We have nothing left."
Prakash Tharu, a volunteer in Bara district, said the devastation caused by the storm had left "a desperate need for food and relief."
Rescuers struggled to reach many settlements blocked by fallen trees and electricity poles.
"Security bodies including the army have been working intensely since Sunday night on rescues and relief," said Rajesh Poudel, Bara's district chief.
Every year hundreds die in landslides and floods during Nepal's monsoon season, but storms causing such high casualties in spring are rare.
The disaster comes as Nepal nears the fourth anniversary of a devastating earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and left millions homeless.
Nepal's difficult terrain and limited infrastructure often leaves emergency workers struggling to reach far-flung areas.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli expressed his condolences and said that the government would do its best for treatment of the injured.
The provincial government has announced free treatment and a financial assistance of 300,000 rupees ($2,710) for families of the dead.