Himalayas avalanches: Trekkers are harming rescue efforts by continuing to walk danger trail

At least 39 people are known to have died in the ferocious storm that hit the Annapurna trail last week

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The Independent Online

Rescue efforts in the Himalayas are being hampered by trekkers who are attempting to enter the affected areas in spite of safety warnings, Nepalese officials said todday.

At least 39 people are known to have died in the ferocious storm that hit the Annapurna trail last week. The Nepalese government said that 407 people had been rescued, while the bodies of 32 people, 15 Nepalis and 17 foreigners, had been recovered. A further seven people are also thought to have died in the country’s worst trekking disaster.

Nepalese government official Yama Bahadur Chokhyal said rescue helicopters were beginning to wind down flights as hopes of finding new survivors faded.

But he said a new problem had developed – trekkers walking directly into the area affected by the storms, where the paths are completely hidden by snow.

“Our rescuers and helicopters ended up having to bring down these new people while we were still trying to reach the ones who were stranded by the blizzard,” he said. “It was burdening and confusing the rescuers.” A section of the Annapurna trail was closed today to prevent more hikers getting stuck on the drifts or hit by avalanches. Officials in Nepal said that up to 40 people may still be missing, but the situation was unclear as some walkers may be in an area with no phone signal and others may not have realised there is concern about their whereabouts.

A crowd-sourced website set up for concerned relatives listed the status of 280 people as “unknown” last night. It included seven people from the UK.

A friend of a woman called Carole Starr said she had not been heard of for five days after arriving in the town of Pokhara, a town popular with trekkers heading to the Annapurna trail.

“She hasn’t been on any big hiking trips before, she was just on a 14-day holiday travelling around with her friend. We just hope she’s OK,” her friend Angela Wilson told the Daily Mirror.

Yadav Koirala, the chief of Nepal’s disaster management authority, said: “We are not clear where the missing people are and whether they are safe or not safe. We can only hope and pray that they are not dead.”

The Foreign Office said it was unaware of any UK citizens who had been killed or injured. A spokeswoman added: “We advise British nationals in the affected area to call home to let their families know they are safe.”

Apart from the 15 dead Nepalis, those killed in the storm included people from Canada, India, Israel, Slovakia, Poland and Japan. However, some have not yet been identified.

Most of the victims died on or near the Annapurna route, which runs for about 140 miles. Most of the fatalities happened at the Thorong La pass, which is 5,416m (17,770ft) above sea level. A Canadian, Paul Cech, who was travelling in a party that lost seven people in an avalanche said Western guides had taken a decision to leave the safety of the village of Phu and head down the Nar-Phu valley because they did not want to get snowed in.

The worst mountain disaster in Nepal happened in 1995 when 42 people died in avalanches in the Mount Everest region.

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