KATHMANDU, Nepal – Thousands of people dressed in white offered prayers, flowers and lit incense at home and in temples Thursday as part of a Hindu ritual marking the end of a 13-day mourning period for those killed in the massive earthquake.
Families and friends also published condolence messages with photographs of victims in local newspapers.
The mourners assembled amid the piles of stones, mud, bricks and wooden beams that once formed centuries-old temples, palaces and structures toppled in the April 25 quake, which killed more than 7,750 people. The main ceremony was held in the ruins of Kastamandap, a temple after which the capital, Kathmandu, was named.
"There are so many people and so many buildings we have all lost in the earthquake. I am here to show my support for these families and to say that we are all here for you," said Alok Shrestha, a banker dressed in white t-shirt and holding a bouquet of marigold.
During the customary 13-day mourning period, close family members stay at home, do not touch outsiders and refrain from eating salt. No entertainment is allowed.
Nearly 500 people gathered at Kathmandu's historic center, Basantapur Durbar Square, whose temples were reduced to rubble, to offer prayers.
Bhimsen Das Shrestha, a lawmaker representing Kathmandu, said the government should enforce new rules to make buildings earthquake-resistant.
"When we rebuild the structures in Kathmandu, we need to consider new technologies in earthquake-prone areas," he said.
Meanwhile, Nepal Rastra Bank, the central bank, announced that people whose houses were damaged could get loans at only 2 percent interest rate. The average commercial loan rate is about 10 percent.
Bank official Min Bahadur Shrestha told state-run Radio Nepal that people in Kathmandu could avail of up to 2.5 million rupees ($25,000) and those outside the capital of 1.5 million rupees ($15,000) in loans.
More than a thousand engineers were checking damaged houses in the capital and advising people about whether they are safe.
About 13,000 families have requested inspections of their homes since the magnitude-7.8 earthquake, Nepal Engineers Association General Secretary Kishore Kumar Jha said.
About 40 percent of the damaged houses inspected so far were considered safe, he said.
It is still unclear how many houses were damaged in the capital and how many are repairable.
Some modern buildings — including upscale hotels and expensive homes — appear to have escaped largely unscathed. But poorer neighborhoods suffered widespread damage.
Much of Kathmandu's Old City, home to many of the precious UNESCO World Heritage sites, was destroyed. Many villages outside the capital also were completely flattened.
As aftershocks continue to shake the capital, many people still are afraid to return to their homes.
Police say about one-third of Kathmandu's population of 700,000 had left the city since the earthquake. Many others have moved in with relatives, while some are staying in tents in open areas.