Nepal official says most trekkers stranded in blizzards rescued, search continues

Most of the trekkers stranded by deadly blizzards in northern Nepal have been rescued or moved to safer ground, but efforts to reach those left behind will continue along the popular route where they were hiking, an official said Saturday.

At least 29 people were killed this past week in a series of snowstorms and avalanches that struck at the height of the October trekking season. The dead and injured include foreign travelers as well as Nepalese guides and local villagers caught in the storms.

While more than 200 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, adding that sunny skies and calm wind conditions were helping the ongoing rescue efforts.

Survivors of the blizzards that swept through the Annapurna trekking route 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 near the popular trekking circuit. 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 as he returned by bus to Katmandu, Nepal's capital. 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.

Most of the affected people were on or near the Annapurna circuit, a 220-kilometer (140-mile) trail through the Annapurna mountain range. Mount Annapurna is the 10th-highest mountain in the world.

The blizzard left 14 people dead on Thorong La pass.

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 10 people in Phu village in Manang district. Five climbers — two Slovaks and three Nepalese guides — were killed in a separate avalanche about 75 kilometers (45 miles) to the west, at the base camp for Mount Dhaulagiri, the world's seventh-highest peak.