Everest avalanche: Death toll increases to 13 as three guides remain missing

'We knew it was an avalanche but we couldn't run away or do anything'

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The Independent Online

The death toll following a devastating avalanche on Mount Everest has risen to at least 13 after rescuers recovered the body of another guide on Saturday.

The avalanche struck a perilous passage called the Khumbu Icefall where men from Nepal’s Sherpa community were laying ropes for other climbers at about 6.30am on Friday.

Rescuers struggled to pull their bodies from mounds of snow and ice following what is the deadliest accident on the world's highest mountain. Officials said that three guides are still missing.

Ang Kami Sherpa, 25, one of at least three survivors flown by helicopter to Kathmand, spoke to Reuters about the tragedy.

“We were tied on a rope and carrying gas to camp when there was a sudden hrrrr sound,” he said.

“We knew it was an avalanche but we couldn't run away or do anything.

"There was a big chunk of snow that fell over us and swept us away. It looked like clouds, all white," he said in a hospital intensive care unit where he was being treated for a blood clot on his leg and facial injuries

Climbers declared a four-day halt to efforts to scale the 8,848-metre (29,029-ft) summit and, while some decided to abandon their mission, others said they would go ahead after talking to their guides.

Shocked relatives wondered how they would cope without the men who take huge risks to earn up to $5,000 (£3,000) for a two-month expedition - around 10 times the average annual pay in Nepal.

"He was the only breadwinner in the family," said 17-year-old Phinjum Sherpa, as she waited for the body of her uncle, Tenji Sherpa, at a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu.

"We have no one to take care of us."

Although relatively low on the mountain, climbers say the Khumbu Icefall is one of the most dangerous places on Mount Everest. Sherpas often make 20-25 round trips to carry kit and supplies to advanced camps, exposing them to greater risk. The most endangered are the so-called Icefall Doctors - a team that maintains and fixes the route.

"It's always the most dangerous part of the mountain to climb, because the ice is constantly moving, there are so many crevasses and seracs where you need to use ladders and ropes to get through the very technical terrain," Californian climber Adrian Ballinger, of Alpenglow Expeditions, told Reuters.

It was first major avalanche of this year's climbing season on Everest, which has been scaled by more than 4,000 climbers.

Some 250 mountaineers have died on the mountain, which is on the border between Nepal and the Chinese region of Tibet and can be climbed from both sides in a season that is cut short in late May by rainy-season clouds cloaking the Himalayas.

Expedition leaders reported that there was anger among some guides after the government announced immediate payments of $400 (£238) to the victims' families to cover funeral costs. Dependents of guides killed in the past said compensation did not nearly cover loss of income from the main family breadwinner.

The government has issued permits to 334 foreign climbers this season, up from 328 for all of last year. An equal number of guides also climb to help the foreign mountaineers.

Additional reporting by Reuters