A snowstorm in the Himalayan region of central Nepal has killed 12 people, including nine hikers and three villagers, while more than 100 remain unaccounted for, officials have said.
The avalanche hit the Mustang and Manang district on Tuesday, but it took army rescuers from nearby training camps several hours to get there due to the severity of the storm. They were able to carry out efforts only after the weather cleared on Wednesday.
“There has been heavy snowfall in the area, up to three feet (91cm),” local police official Ganesh Rai told the AFP news agency.
On Wednesday, five bodies, which included four Canadian trekkers and one Indian trekker, were found in Manang after they were hit by an avalanche. The bodies of the three villagers were also recovered on Wednesday in a different area.
Nepalese army official Niranjan Shrestha told the AP news agency that earlier four trekkers, two Polish, one Israeli and one Nepali, were killed after being caught in a blizzard caused by the snowstorm.
Their bodies were recovered on Tuesday from the Thorong La pass, about 160km northwest of the capital, Kathmandu.
The Thorong La pass is on the route that circles Mount Annapurna, the world’s tenth highest peak.
Rai said that a total of 168 tourists had registered to trek in Mustang along the highly-popular Annapurna circuit this week, of whom 143 were unaccounted for.
According to the AP news agency, officials said that around 14 foreign trekkers have been rescued so far.
A reporter who spoke to local non-profit Himalayan Rescue Association, said some of the rescued trekkers were being treated in nearby Jomsom town.
She said that many of the more than 100 people have managed to get down to Muktinath, which is at the foot of the Thorong La pass, and that officials said between 18 to 20 people are believed to still be buried under the excessive snow.
Mustang district official Baburam Bhandari said “the phone network is not very good so we have not been able to get in touch with the missing, but we hope to find them later today”.
Thousands of trekkers visit the Annapurna section of the Himalayas every October, when weather conditions are deemed favorable for hiking trips.
However, Mustang has seen unusually heavy snowfall this week as a result of Cyclone Hudhud, which has struck neighboring India’s eastern coast at the weekend.
An avalanche in April, just above the base camp on Mount Everest, killed 16 Nepalese guides, the deadliest single disaster on the mountain.
Climate experts say rising global temperatures have contributed to avalanches on the Himalayan mountains.