The death toll from this week's series of snow storms and avalanches in Nepal has reached 40, after nine more bodies were spotted on a trekking trail by a rescue helicopter in the worst hiking disaster in the Himalayan country.

The bodies were seen from the air in the northern Dolpa district, but the steep terrain made it impossible for the helicopter to land, Yadav Koirala, from the Disaster Management Division in Kathmandu, said on Saturday.

The helicopter picked up three survivors and rescuers on foot would be sent to the area to retrieve the bodies, he said.

The victims are most likely Nepalese porters, said Ram Chandra Sharma of the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal.

Dolpa district is next to Manang and Mustang districts in the popular Annapurna mountain range trekking trail where most of the foreign trekkers and Nepalese guides and villagers were killed this week. Among the dead were Canadians, Indians, Israelis, Slovaks and Poles.

While more than 300 people have been rescued, sometimes plucked from mountainsides by helicopters and taken to nearby villages and towns, dozens more are still taking shelter in isolated mountain huts, said government administrator Yama Bahadur Chokhyal.

The snow storms were whipped by the tail end of a cyclone that hit the Indian coast a few days earlier. The weather has since improved and sunny skies and calm wind conditions were helping the rescue efforts.

Caught-off guard

Survivors of the blizzards that swept through the Annapurna trekking route,160km northwest of the capital, Kathmandu, said they were caught off-guard when the weather changed quickly.

The skies were clear at the start of the week, said Gombu Sherpa, who was guiding a group of Germans. But that changed suddenly when the snow blew in.

"We could hardly see anyone, even within a couple of feet. The wind was blowing snow and visibility was almost zero," he said in a telephone interview after returning by bus to Kathmandu. He said many people lost their way in the storm, but that everyone in his group survived.

One of his assistants, who was behind the group when the storm hit, was missing for an entire night, lost in the blizzard.

"We found him the next morning wandering in the snow. It is a miracle that he is alive," he said.

The deaths are the worst hiking disaster in Nepal, where an avalanche in April just above the base camp on Mount Everest killed 16 Nepalese guides.

Source: Agencies