NEW DELHI (Reuters) - All of the climbers who had been stranded at camps high up Mount Everest by a huge earthquake and avalanches have been helicoptered to safety, mountaineers reported from base camp on Tuesday.
Taking advantage of Monday's clear weather, three helicopters shuttled climbers all day from camp 1, above the impassable Khumbu icefalls, while others trekked back from camp 2 to be airlifted out.
Around half of the tents at Everest base camp were destroyed by an avalanche unleashed by Saturday's 7.9 magnitude earthquake, killing between 17 and 22 climbers, according to separate accounts.
Canadian Nick Cienski said many of the returning climbers' tent camps had been wiped out by the avalanche which, surging at speeds estimated at up to 300 km per hour, cut a swath through base camp, hurling gear, people and tents hundreds of feet.
"Many of these people have no camps, no tents, nothing left - everything is strewn all over the glacier," Cienski said in a video dispatch recorded on Monday and posted on his Facebook page.
"The only thing they've got is what they land with in the helicopter, what's in their packs."
Around 350 foreign climbers, and double the number of local sherpa guides, had been on the 8,850-metre mountain when the worst ever disaster on world's tallest peak struck.
Danish climber Carsten Lillelund Pedersen said his team had been trekking on Saturday down from camp 2, which is at an altitude of 6,400 metres, when it was caught in a whiteout and had to turn back. He eventually made it to camp 1.
Three helicopters shuttled 170 climbers from camp 1 to base camp on Monday. Because of the high altitude and thin air, the aircraft were only able to carry two climbers at a time. "Everest, above base camp, is now empty," Pedersen posted on his Facebook page.
With much of base camp devastated and many sherpas having returned home to see if their families and houses are safe, some expeditions have been forced to cancel their attempts to scale Everest this year.
Some, like Cienski, who plans to set a world record by scaling six 8,000-metre peaks this year, have yet to abandon their quests, despite the disaster that has overwhelmed Nepal and killed at more than 4,000 people. "A lot of gear, tents, oxygen, fuel etc is stashed a camp 2 ready to 'rebuild' later this season," said Pedersen.