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KATMANDU, Nepal – Nepal wrapped up rescue operations in its northern mountains Monday, saying all the hikers believed to have been stranded on a trekking route by a series of deadly blizzards are now safe.
At least 39 people, including trekkers from Canada, India, Israel, Slovakia, Poland and Japan, died in the blizzards and avalanches that swept the Himalayas last week, battering the popular Annapurna trekking circuit.
The last rescue helicopters hovered over Mustang, Manang and Dolpa districts on Monday, said Yadav Koirala of Nepal's Disaster Management Division. All the casualties were in those three districts northwest of the capital, Katmandu.
"We believe that all the trekkers and guides have been helped and as far as we know there are no more people stranded on the route," Koirala said, adding that some soldiers would remain camped out in the area.
So far, 35 bodies have been identified.
The bodies of 12 of these trekkers and guides were flown to Katmandu on Monday and taken to the T.U Teaching Hospital morgue for autopsies. Among them was the body of an Israeli woman whose body was recovered only on Sunday.
Sumomai Ghosh, a trekker from Kolkata, India, said they were separated by the storm while trekking last week and only found out today that two of their trekking partners were killed.
Ghosh and his friends took the body of one of them in a coffin from the hospital morgue to fly home later on Monday.
The bodies of the nine Nepalese porters recovered on Sunday were also brought to Katmandu by army rescuers on Monday.
Also Sunday, Nepalese officials closed a section of the popular Annapurna trekking circuit because new groups of hikers had been streaming into the area where most of the victims died.
The snowstorms were whipped up by the tail end of a cyclone that hit the Indian coast a few days earlier. Hikers were caught off-guard when the weather changed quickly.
Most of the victims were on or near the Annapurna trekking route, a 220-kilometer (140-mile) collection of trails through the Annapurna mountain range.