Nepal saw a huge storm on Tuesday that brought heavy snow and avalanches that buried many mountain climbing tourists. The storm is believed to have been linked to Cyclone Hudhud that hit India recently. Government officials from Nepal’s Home Ministry claimed that more people could have been saved had there been more advance warning of the storm, but its severity came as an unexpected surprise.
Two military helicopters flew in from the nation’s capital of Katmandu on Wednesday to help in rescue efforts. Nine people were saved as a result. A number of other tourists were rescued on Thursday through both military and private means. Rescue efforts had to be put off today when darkness fell and made such efforts too risky. They will resume on Friday.
This is the popular time of the year for mountain climbing in Nepal, the tiny Asian country dominated by dramatic Himalayan peaks. It is a popular destination for tourists and adventurer seekers looking to scale the famous peaks. Nepal is a poor country that relies heavily on the tourist industry. However, this year in Nepal has been particularly deadly. There was an avalanche on Mt. Everest in April that killed 16 Sherpa guides, and fewer people attempted to climb the world’s tallest mountain as a result. Now, Nepal has had this surprise storm from India move in quickly and bury nearly 100 tourists under an avalanche of snow.
Reports are coming in that continually adjust the count of both dead and missing. The latest estimate of the number of deceased stood at 29 today, with an estimated 70 people still missing. The death toll is expected to continue to rise. Communication can be difficult and scarce. in the region Even when some of the tourists are found and known to be safe, it could take days for them to be able to communicate with the outside world again.
Such was the case with Virginia Schwartz and Jane Van Criekingen, two Canadian tourists who went to Nepal on what they believed was the trip of a lifetime. Earlier today they were able to post on Facebook that they were safe. They will now be heading towards Pokhara, which is roughly 200 kilometers from the spot that saw the avalanches, so it will still take them roughly 47 hours worth of hiking before they can again communicate with the outside world.
Most of the casualties occurred at the Annapurna Circuit, a popular trail for tourists. The worst of the stormy weather hit at an altitude of approximately 4,500 meters (14,800 feet) above sea level, just below the route’s highest point, the Thorung La pass.
Nepal’s storm caused a number of avalanches, and rescue efforts are continuing to find buried tourists. Complicating matters is the distance between some of the sites that saw avalanches. One occurred at a camp by the base of Mount Dhaulagiri, approximately 45 miles further west. from the main incident. Tourists from numerous nationalities, including Canadians, Poles, Slovaks, Israelis, Indian and some Nepalese themselves, were all victims of the stormy weather. Many Nepalese people were on the trails due to local festivals.
By Charles Bordeau
Photo by McKay Savage – Flickr