KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 25 (UPI) -- The United States is sending a disaster-response team and an initial $1 million in aid after a 7.9-magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal on Saturday, killing some 1,500 people.
The quake, centered less than 50 miles from the capital, Kathmandu, is the most powerful to strike the region in decades, leveling centuries-old structures, toppling buildings and cutting open roads. Authorities expect the death toll to rise.
Nepal officials said there was "massive damage" at the epicenter. The Kathmandu valley is densely populated, with many residents living in poverty in poorly constructed homes. Aftershocks, ranging from 4.5 to 6.6 magnitude, have been felt as far away as Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
Several landmarks and historic buildings, including Dharahara or Bhimsen Tower, were reduced to rubble in Kathmandu. As the quake struck, people started panicking and running down streets.
Among the reported dead is Dan Fredinburg, an adventurer and Google executive, who was killed on Mount Everest after the earthquake struck.
The United States Agency for International Development said it is working with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance to provide funding "to address immediate needs."
"We need support from the various international agencies which are more knowledgeable and equipped to handle the kind of emergency we face now," said Nepal's Information Minister Minendra Rijal.
Climbers on Mount Everest ran for their lives as the quake shook the ground and triggered avalanches. Up to 10 climbers have been reported dead and several others are missing or injured.
"It felt like a wind in the back but more powerful," Belgian climber Jelle Veyt told NBC News. I was "just surrounded by snow then. I couldn't see my own hands."
Dharahara tower is busy destination for families on weekends. Today, it collapsed trapping many. Rescue ops ongoing. pic.twitter.com/wtuxDLkvWz— Kashish Das Shrestha (@kashishds) April 25, 2015