KATHMANDU: Chief of Army staff Gaurav Shumsher JB Rana today said hill areas suffered the most damage from the April 25 quake and the death toll could exceed 10,000.

Interacting with mediapersons at the Army Headquarters here today, Rana said Nepali Army personnel were trying their best to search and rescue the victims.

He said 60 to 65 international rescue teams were offering help in search and rescue work. He, however, said International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) failed to respond to the quake within 30 hours of the tragedy.

“Often, INSARAG responds to such tragedies within 30 hours, but in our case, it failed to provide help within 30 hours,” Rana said in response to a question. INSARAG is a network of disaster-prone and disaster-responding countries and organisations dedicated to urban search and rescue and operational field coordination.

Nepali Army was coordinating with foreign military search and rescue teams and there was no question of foreign teams violating Nepal’s sovereignty. “All they are doing is a humanitarian job. We should not think that they are violating our sovereignty,” Rana said and added that India had offered more help, but Nepal told the Indian authorities that Nepal needed to accept help from other friends as well.

In response to a question, Rana said India provided helicopters on the request of Nepal and it would be unfair to tell India to withdraw their helicopters from the rescue operation. He said Nepali Army personnel accompanied wherever Indian rescue teams were flying and there was no question of suspecting the Indian rescuers’ role.

When asked if Nepali Army was taking more space among Nepali security agencies involved in search and rescue operations, Rana said, “What our people are doing is serving the people. It is the same army that helped hold the CA elections.” Rana also said the Nepali Army was doing what was in the national framework of guidance for search and rescue operations.

Asked how the relief materials could be better channelised and distributed, Rana said the best way to distribute relief would be to bring all relief materials under government control and then distribute them. He said some relief materials were at the airport for unnecessarily long time because of procedural matters. “The government is concerned that in the name of distributing relief materials, black marketeering should not benefit from tax exemption,” he added.