Rescuers claw at earth to find Nepalese quake survivors

Emergency rescue workers carry a victim on a stretcher on April 25, 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal.
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Emergency rescue workers carry a victim on a stretcher on April 25, 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal.

They searched by hand, brick by brick, convinced that they had found another body under the rubble around Kathmandu's most famous temple complex. But no one was there.

In the heart of old Kathmandu, historic buildings proved too vulnerable and fragile to withstand the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that pummeled Nepal on Saturday.

The area around Durbar Square, the plaza in front of the old royal palace that's filled with UNESCO World Heritage sites — some dating to the third century — seems to have borne the brunt of the quake. Before Saturday, it was home not only to the former royal residence but also to one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in the Himalayas, the nine-story Dharahara Tower, which was reduced to a shattered stump.

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Open spaces are packed. Residents prefer to live in the open, because they're too afraid to return to their homes — fear that was magnified Sunday after another massive aftershock rocked the city.

Old Kathmandu was a magnet for tourists, and the earthquakes struck at the height of the tourist season. Will Clements of San Diego was just two days into his visit.

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"Nobody knew what to do," Clements told NBC News. "There were people digging things out from the rubble trying to find people, but it was just absolute chaos here."

"Tragically, more bodies are being pulled from collapsed buildings every hour," the Australian Red Cross said in a statement.

"Communication is down in many areas," it said Sunday night. "Widespread destruction, rubble and landslides are preventing access to provide aid in many villages."

And as dusk fell Sunday night, the rescuers were still digging with their bare hands.