Nepal is "on a war footing" as it tries to help survivors followingSaturday's earthquake, its prime minister says.
Sushil Koirala said the government was doing all it could but was overwhelmed.
The UN has estimated that eight million people have been affected - more than a quarter of the population. Foreign aid is arriving but being hampered by congestion at Kathmandu's sole airport.
Officials say the death toll from the 7.8-magnitude quake has now passed 5,000, but could reach 10,000.
"The government is doing all it can for rescue and relief on a war footing" in a "difficult hour" for Nepal, Mr Koirala told Reuters news agency.
He has also admitted that lack of equipment and expert personnel meant the "appeals for rescues coming in from everywhere" in many cases could not be met.
More than 10,000 people are known to have been injured when the quake hit and in numerous powerful aftershocks which have sent people fleeing from their homes to camp on open ground.
Half a million people have been displaced, according to Nepal's home ministry.
Water, food and electricity are in short supply and there are fears of outbreaks of disease.
"Eight million people in 39 districts have been affected, of which over two million people live in the 11 severely affected districts," said the most recent report from the UN Office of the Resident Co-ordinator in Nepal.
Landslips and periodic bad weather in the remote mountainous region around the epicentre are adding to the challenge for rescue and relief teams.
Rebecca McAteer, a US doctor who was one of the first to arrive in the district of Gorkha close to the epicentre, told Associated Press that 90% of houses there were "just flattened".
She said most residents were older men and women and children, as the younger men had left to find work elsewhere.
Many have also lost livestock and have little food.
But helicopters are now air-dropping tents, dry food and medicine - though they are yet to reach many isolated communities.
Where helicopters manage to land, they are mobbed by hungry and fearful villagers pleading to be airlifted out.
"The ground keeps shaking, even this morning it did," Sita Gurung told AFP news agency in the village of Lapu.
"Every time it feels like we will be swallowed, that we will die now. I want to get out of here!" she added, saying the villagers had "nothing left".