Nepal rescuers find 34 more trekkers, 3 bodies after snowstorm

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepalese teams on Sunday rescued 34 more trekkers and guides stranded in the Himalayas since a deadly snowstorm struck five days ago at the height of the hiking season, officials said.

Rescuers using helicopters also found three more bodies buried on the highly popular Annapurna Circuit trekking route, taking the total number of those confirmed or feared dead to 40.

"Four helicopters were sent out today to the affected areas in Mustang, Manang and Dolpa. We have rescued 34 since morning," said police official Pradeep Bhattarai.

Those rescued include 17 Nepalese, 10 Germans, five Swedes and two Australians, Bhattarai told AFP, without giving details of their injuries or condition.

Rescuers also pressed on with their search for bodies that they have seen from the air but have so far been unable to retrieve, said the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal, an industry group.

Searchers were taking advantage of good weather but efforts were being hampered by the fact that snow was turning to ice, making it difficult to retrieve trapped bodies.

"We are scanning areas at higher altitude today, coordinating with local officials to identify areas where remaining trekkers might be found," said association official Ramesh Dhamala.

Nepal has pledged to set up a weather warning system after the snowstorm caught trekkers unaware as they heading to an exposed high mountain pass on the circuit.

Police have said 483 trekkers, guides and others have been rescued since Wednesday, including 292 foreigners.

Thousands of people head to the Annapurna region every October, when the weather is usually clear and cool.

Search and rescue efforts were focused on an area of the circuit in Manang where two of the three bodies were found on Sunday and where more were feared buried, another official from the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal told AFP.

"A team of experts dug through snow to recover bodies of two Indians at Nar-Phu area. Ten bodies were (still) believed to be buried in that area," said Machendra Acharya.

The third body was discovered in Letdar, higher up the circuit at 4,200 metres (13,779 feet). The identity of the man, dressed in monk's clothing, was unknown, he said.

There have differing accounts of the total number of dead. But according to the trekking association a total of 40 people have died.

Many bodies have been recovered, while others have been seen from the air by rescuers or described in eyewitness accounts by survivors.

The dead include at least 26 hikers, guides and porters on the circuit, three yak herders, and five people who were climbing a nearby mountain.