The UK has deployed a team of humanitarian experts to Nepal to provide urgent support to those affected by Saturday’s earthquake.
The eight-strong team, which includes experts in search and rescue, will travel to Nepal overnight.
The 7.8 magnitude quake struck just before midday local time and is thought to have killed more than 1,000 people.
A number of British charities are assembling disaster teams to join the rescue effort.
Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, the British Red Cross and Plan International UK have all confirmed they are assessing the humanitarian need in the disaster struck area.
Prime Minister David Cameron had said the UK would do all it could to help in the aftermath of the earthquake.
The Nepalese information minister has told the BBC that 1,500 people had been killed in the disaster, but that the true casualty figure would probably be much higher.
‘Trapped and injured’
Work to assess the scale of the damage and helping the Nepalese authorities direct the humanitarian response will begin on Sunday, International Development Secretary Justine Greening confirmed when announcing the dispatch of the team from her department.
She said: “My thoughts are with the people of Nepal, in particular all those who have lost loved ones.
“The absolute priority must be to reach people who are trapped and injured, and provide shelter and protection to those who have lost their homes.
“Nepal needs our urgent humanitarian assistance.
“That is why we have rapidly deployed a team of humanitarian experts who will immediately begin work assessing the damage and helping the Nepalese authorities respond to this devastating earthquake.”
Tom Trevelyan, a British tourist in Kathmandu, says he was in the centre of the old city when the quake struck.
He said he “just saw a plume of dust in front of me as two of the big temples collapsed”.
He added: “It was just locals and us and any sort of other tourists jumping in and trying to dig people up and help pull people out.”
The Foreign Office has offered assistance to local authorities and advised British nationals in the area to stay “in a place of safety”.
The majority of fatalities were reported in Nepal, but there have been deaths in India, Tibet, Bangladesh and at the Nepal-China border.
Mr Cameron took to Twitter to express the country’s support and British charities are also preparing to help to deal with the disaster.
The prime minister tweeted: “Shocking news about the earthquake in Nepal – the UK will do all we can to help those caught up in it.”
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “My thoughts are with the people of Nepal and everyone affected by the terrible loss of life and widespread damage caused by the earthquake.
“We are in close contact with the Nepalese government.
“The British Embassy in Nepal is offering our assistance to the authorities and is providing consular assistance to British nationals.”
A spokeswoman for Intrepid, which arranges treks in Nepal and around the Everest region, said it had some groups which included Britons in the area, and it was in the process of trying to get in touch with them.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has released an emergency number +44 (0) 207 008 0000 for British nationals needing consular assistance to call.
Labour leader Ed Miliband also expressed his sympathy, tweeting: “The awful scenes in Nepal are heartbreaking.
“My thoughts go out to the people affected, and to those caring for survivors.”
Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg said his that heart goes out to “all the people of Nepal”.
“My thoughts are also with all the Nepalese people living here in the UK worried about their loved ones, including our Gurkha community, who are a shining testament to the resilience and great spirit of the Nepalese people,” he added.
The British Red Cross already had an ‘earthquake preparedness project’ in place in anticipation of a major quake, and Christian Aid has made an initial £50,000 available to help victims.
Christian Aid’s regional emergency manager Ram Kishan said today: “Our partners are en route to establish where need is greatest, so that we can respond quickly and effectively.
“It’s clear from what has emerged so far that there is an urgent need for emergency shelters, food and clean drinking water, warm clothing blankets and hygiene kits.”
Tanya Barron, CEO of Plan International UK, who is in eastern Nepal on a scheduled visit, said she had been on the top floor of a building when it started to “shake violently”.
She added: “It was very scary. Our colleagues advised us that the quake felt much stronger than usual.
“We are safe and now we are working with our colleagues to respond. There are crowds of people on the streets here and the hospitals are already overwhelmed.
“Our immediate priorities are to assist the emergency services with search and rescue and to establish shelter.”
Oxfam also has teams in Nepal already assessing the humanitarian need and a team of technical experts preparing to fly from the UK with supplies to provide clean water, sanitation and emergency food supplies.
Among those caught up in the disaster are two Scottish 21-year-olds, Joseph Feeney from Blarhill, Coatbridge and Calum Henderson from Edinburgh.
Both are students at Aberdeen University and were en-route to Annapurna base camp on a trekking holiday when the earthquake hit.
They have contacted their parents to say they are safe, but currently stranded.
Ben Pickering, Save the Children’s humanitarian adviser in Britain, said the priority is to understand what the emergency needs are – right now, and in the coming weeks.
“We are treating it as a big emergency. Children will be affected in many ways. Physical injuries. Separated from families,” he said.
About an hour after the initial quake, a magnitude 6.6 aftershock hit, and smaller aftershocks could be felt through the region for hours.
A senior mountaineering guide, Ang Tshering, said an avalanche swept the face of Mount Everest after the earthquake and government officials said at least 30 people were injured.
Gyanendra Shretha, an official with Nepal’s mountaineering department, said the bodies of eight people had been recovered and an unknown number remain missing or injured.