VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis led prayers in St. Peter's Square for the dead and displaced from the massive earthquake in Nepal and surrounding areas.
Francis called for assistance for the survivors during his weekly Sunday blessing. He said he was praying for the victims, the injured and "all those who are suffering from this calamity," and asked that they have the "support and fraternal solidarity" they need.
On Saturday, the Vatican secretary of state sent a formal telegram of condolences seeking to encourage rescue crews and comfort the survivors.
Saturday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake left at least 3,700 people dead, spreading horror from Kathmandu to small villages and to the slopes of Mount Everest, triggering an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers.
U.N. spokeswoman Orla Fagan, who is heading to Nepal, said preventing the spread of disease is one of the most important tasks facing aid workers who are arriving.
"There are 14 international medical teams on the way and either 14 or 15 international search-and-rescue teams on the way," she said. "They need to get in as soon as possible. They will use military aircraft to get them into Nepal."
Substantial logistical hurdles remain, but there were hopeful signs as Kathmandu's international airport reopened after Saturday's crushing earthquake, and some aid vehicles were able to travel overland from Indian to the stricken Nepalese city of Pokhara.
"That means supplies could potentially come in overland from India. That is a positive sign," said Ben Pickering, Save the Children's humanitarian adviser in Britain. "The airport opening is a small miracle."
He cautioned that chaotic conditions may create a bottleneck at the airport as governments and aid agencies try to bring in personnel and supplies in the coming days.
The need is great: UNICEF said Sunday that at least 940,000 children in areas affected by the earthquake are in "urgent need" of humanitarian assistance. UNICEF staff reported dwindling water supplies, power shortages and communications breakdowns.
There is still a dearth of information about conditions at the epicenter of the earthquake, Pickering said, and is not clear which roads are passable.
"Going forward it's about access to the epicenter, and helicopters are the key, but it's not clear whether they can be sourced and whether the high altitude is a problem," he said, adding that Save the Children has emergency kits pre-positioned in three warehouses in Nepal and plans to distribute bedding, buckets and other basic supplies to 2,000 families as quickly as possible.
Other charities face similar roadblocks.
International Search and Rescue Germany said a team of 52 relief workers including doctors, experts trained in searching for people buried under rubble and several dog squads are flying Sunday. The team will bring a mobile medical treatment center.
Spokesman Stefan Heine said the priority was to get to the scene of the quake as quickly as possible to find those still alive.
They will be supported by numerous governments that have announced plans to send aid worth millions of dollars.
The United Arab Emirates deployed an 88-member search-and-rescue team to Nepal Sunday, and the Emirates Red Crescent also sent a team.
The Israeli military said it is sending a 260-member mission to Nepal to provide immediate search-and-rescue help and medical aid.
"An advanced multi-department medical facility, equipped with approximately 95 tons of humanitarian and medical supplies from Israel and a medical staff of 122 doctors, nurses and paramedics, will be rapidly established in the city of Katmandu to provide medical care for disaster casualties," the Israeli military said.
European nations deployed as well: France said it would send 11 rescuers on Sunday; Britain announced that an advance team of eight had been sent and that a 5 million pound ($7.6 million) aid package would be available under a rapid response plan; and the Swiss Foreign Ministry said a team of experts including a doctor, a building surveyor and water quality technician had left for Nepal on Sunday.