A number of Australians are among those who have been rescued in Nepal after major snowstorms and avalanches hit a popular trekking area on Wednesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) says.
As many as 40 people are still missing after an unseasonal blizzard killed 39 others in what is being called Nepal’s worst trekking disaster.
DFAT said poor weather would mean the search and rescue operation would continue for some time.
More than 500 people have been rescued from a route popular with foreign adventure tourists that circles Annapurna, the world’s tenth-tallest peak – among them 230 foreigners.
The department said the Australian embassy in Kathmandu was in close contact with Nepalese authorities and trek organisers following the incident, but so far there had been no reports of dead or injured Australians.
“Our embassy is continuing to seek information about the welfare and whereabouts of any Australians in the affected area,” DFAT said in a statement.
“Embassy staff remain ready to assist any Australians affected by this tragedy. Nepalese authorities continue to advise there are no reports of Australian casualties, so far.
“A number of foreigners, including Australians, have been rescued. However, the search and rescue process is still under way and will continue for some time due to weather conditions.”
Hopes fade for 40 missing after Nepal blizzard
Meanwhile, hopes are fading for survivors as villagers joined an intensive search by troops and government officials.
Rescuers turned to villagers familiar with the rugged, snow-clad terrain in the hunt for trekkers stranded in isolated areas after the tail end of a cyclone that hit neighbouring India last weekend triggered the snow and avalanches.
“We are not clear where the missing people are and whether they are safe or not safe,” Yadav Koirala, the chief of Nepal’s disaster management authority, said.
“We can only hope and pray that they are not dead.”
Since Wednesday, rescue teams have recovered 30 bodies and identified nine more from the air.
“The snow is very thick and the rescue teams are finding it difficult to pull the nine bodies out,” KP Sharma, an administrator in Dolpa said.
Army helicopters continued to search for survivors on parts of the trail at an altitude of more than 5000 metres.
Soldiers fanned out through some of the most treacherous terrain where helicopters could not land.
The dead include Canadian, Indian, Israeli, Japanese, Nepalese, Polish and Slovak trekkers.
Survivors said many victims perished trying to descend from the trail’s highest pass in freezing, whiteout conditions.
The incident was the year’s second major mountain disaster in Nepal, after an avalanche killed 16 guides on Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, in April.
This week’s disaster was the worst since avalanches crashed down peaks in the Mount Everest region in 1995, killing 42 people, army officials said.
DFAT has offered to help those affected and said anyone with concerns for the welfare of friends or family should first attempt to contact them directly, or their tour company.
Australians concerned about loved ones can contact DFAT’s 24 hour consular emergency centre on (02) 6261 3305 or within Australia on 1300 555 135.