Death toll rises in Nepal avalanche area

Death toll stands at 29 as government forms committee to co-ordinate rescue efforts amid criticism of operation.

Rescuers have widened their search for trekkers missing since a series of blizzards and avalanches battered the Himalayas in northern Nepal earlier this week, leaving at least 29 people killed.

The government also announced on Friday the formation of a high-level committee that would monitor and co-ordinate rescue efforts following criticism that officials were not doing enough to help hikers who have been spotted but remain steanded along a popular trekking circuit.

A group of about 40 of the stranded trekkers tried to start leaving the area on Friday, not realising it was still blocked.

The incident prompted the army rescuers to abandon their operation to find survivors from under the snow on another mountain in order to airlift the trekkers.

Al Jazeera’s Subina Shrestha, reporting from Muktinath, said that authorities were not providing information to stranded trekkers.

Authorities have rescued 78 trekkers from Mustang and 157 from the neighbouring Manang district since Wednesday.

Minendra Risal, the country’s information minister, said the new committee, ordered by the prime minister, would directly monitor the rescue operation and help wherever needed.

The committee would co-ordinate operations among the army, police, local administrations and the private operators now involved in the rescues.

Peak season

The Annapurna trekking route, 160km northwest of the capital, Kathmandu, was filled with foreign hikers during the peak October trekking season, when the air is generally clear and cool.

There were also many Nepalese on the trails because of local festivals.

Two trekkers from Hong Kong and 12 Israelis were airlifted on Wednesday to Kathmandu, where they were being treated at a hospital. They said they survived by taking refuge in a small tea shop along the path. 

The blizzard, the tail end of a cyclone that hit the Indian coast a few days earlier, appeared to contribute to an avalanche that killed at least eight people in Phu village in neighbouring Manang district.

The dead included three Indian and four Canadian trekkers as well as three villagers, said government official Devendra Lamichane.

The foreigners’ bodies were buried in up to two metres of snow and digging them out will take days, Lamichane said.

Three Canadian trekkers who survived the avalanche were taken by helicopter to a shelter in a nearby town.

Authorities said five climbers were killed in a separate avalanche about 75km to the west, at the base camp for Mount Dhaulagiri.

The climbers, two Slovaks and three Nepali guides, were preparing to scale the 8,167-metre peak, the world’s seventh tallest, said Gyanedra Shrestha of Nepal’s mountaineering department. Their bodies were recovered on Thursday.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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