Nepal resumes search for snowstorm victims over fears of more trapped

Volunteers shift the recovered body of a trekker killed in a snowstorm and an avalanche on Nepal's Annapurna Circuit, at the Teaching Hospital morgue in Kathmandu on Oct 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Volunteers shift the recovered body of a trekker killed in a snowstorm and an avalanche on Nepal's Annapurna Circuit, at the Teaching Hospital morgue in Kathmandu on Oct 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepalese emergency workers Tuesday retrieved the bodies of two porters killed in a massive Himalayan snowstorm that has left at least 43 dead, as the government vowed to reform the trekking industry.

Rescue workers, who had planned to end their search, returned to the mountains to look for survivors on Tuesday after receiving fresh information suggesting that trekkers, guides and porters may still be stranded on the popular Annapurna Circuit route.

The bodies of two porters were located during a chopper search of an exposed high mountain pass that bore the brunt of the storm, an official from The Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN) told AFP.

"We have retrieved the bodies of two Nepalese porters from Thorong La pass," said TAAN president Ramesh Dhamala.

"We could not find any survivors during our search of the area," Dhamala added.

More than 500 people have been airlifted to safety since a snowstorm hit the region last Tuesday at the height of the trekking season, triggering avalanches.

A statement from the home ministry released earlier on Tuesday said that at least 41 trekkers, porters, guides and others have either been confirmed dead or presumed to have perished in the disaster.

That toll did not include the two bodies sighted and recovered later in the day.

In addition to 35 bodies retrieved by emergency workers, eight others remain buried in Manang district.

Home secretary Surya Prasad Silwal told a press briefing that the government would take steps to provide more training to trekking guides and maintain more accurate records of tourist numbers in mountainous areas.

"This disaster has been a great lesson for us," he said. "We have also realised the need to provide more training to trekking guides working with foreigners so risks can be minimised."

Tourism ministry spokesman Mohan Krishna Sapkota told AFP: "we want to encourage trekkers to use guides but we have no plans at the moment to make it mandatory".

"We would like them to take out insurance policies to cover medical expenses in future, since we found that many of the victims had no insurance in this case," Sapkota said.

Nepal's prime minister has already pledged to set up a weather warning system after many of the hikers appeared to have been unaware of the forecast snowstorm as they headed up the route.

The 43 victims include 21 tourists - among them five Indians, four Israelis, four Canadians, three Poles, two Slovakians, a Chinese and a Japanese. One tourist's nationality could not be confirmed, the home ministry statement said.

At least 22 Nepalese were also dead or presumed dead, including 19 guides and porters and three yak herders.

Nepalese soldiers, air-dropped by choppers, camped out near an avalanche-hit site in Manang district Tuesday in an attempt to clear snowdrifts and retrieve another eight bodies, an official said.

"It has been very difficult to recover these eight bodies because of heavy snow making access to the site tough," district official Devendra Lamichanne told AFP.

The eight include four Canadians, an Indian and three Nepalese.

Thousands of people head to the Annapurna region every October, when the weather is usually at its best for trekking.

The disaster follows Mount Everest's deadliest ever avalanche, which killed 16 guides in April and forced an unprecedented shutdown of the world's highest peak.