All stranded trekkers in storm-hit region safe: Nepal official

A survivor injured in a snowstorm is carried on a stretcher by Nepal Army personnel to an army helicopter in the Manang district along the Annapurna Circuit Trek on Oct 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP/NEPAL ARMY
A survivor injured in a snowstorm is carried on a stretcher by Nepal Army personnel to an army helicopter in the Manang district along the Annapurna Circuit Trek on Oct 17, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP/NEPAL ARMY

KATHMANDU (AFP) - All trekkers left stranded by a major snowstorm in Nepal's Himalayas are safe, officials said on Saturday, with the focus now shifting to the recovery of bodies four days after the disaster killed at least 32 people.

Nepalese army choppers circled the upper reaches of the popular Annapurna Circuit trekking region to locate bodies, while officials flew in a team of experts from Kathmandu to assist with retrieval.

"We understand that all remaining trekkers in the region are safe," said Mr Binay Acharya of the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN), an industry body organising rescue efforts. "We have not received any further calls for rescue or for information about stranded people," he told AFP.

Emergency workers have so far rescued 385 people from the affected area, according to police. "Since Wednesday, we have rescued 385 people, including 180 foreigners," said police official Harikrishna KC.

Tuesday's unseasonal storm, which hit at the height of the trekking season triggering avalanches, caught hikers unaware on their way up to an exposed high mountain pass, and killed at least 17 tourists.

Rescuers on Friday recovered the body of a Nepalese porter, taking the death toll to 32, including 24 hikers, guides and porters on the trekking circuit, three yak herders as well as five climbers on a mountain in the area.

Thousands of people head to the Annapurna Circuit every October, when weather conditions are usually clear.

However, the region has seen unusually heavy snowfall this week sparked by Cyclone Hudhud, which slammed into India's east coast Sunday.

The disaster prompted Nepal's Prime Minister Sushil Koirala to announce plans to set up a weather warning system across the mountainous country, which relies heavily on tourism revenues from climbing and trekking.

The Annapurna Circuit is particularly popular among tourists, and has come to be known as the "apple pie" trek for the food served at the small lodges, known as teahouses, that line the route.

The snowstorm is one of Nepal's worst trekking disasters since 1995 when a huge avalanche struck the camp of a Japanese trekking group in the Mount Everest region, killing 42 people including, 13 Japanese.

The Himalayan nation has suffered multiple avalanches this year, with 16 guides killed in April in the deadliest accident to hit Mount Everest, forcing an unprecedented shutdown of the world's highest peak.