16 October 2014: High winds and snowstormÂ hit much of central Nepal this week as the tail end of a cyclone travelling west across northern India reached the Himalayan mountain chain. The head of the Trekking Agencies Association Nepal said there had never been a disaster like it.
Local officials said 24 bodies had been found on the Annapurna circuit, which circles the Annapurna mountain and attracts thousands of walkers every year. Some 168 foreign tourists were registered to hike in the area when the storm came in and authorities are trying to track the rest of them down, with efforts hampered by poor telecommunications. Around half are still missing, officials said, and there are fears the death toll may rise. There is confusion over the exact death toll so far in the region, which is inaccessible, despite being only around 100 miles from the capital, Kathmandu.
Police spokesman Madhav Joshi said 12 people were confirmed dead, while army spokesman Niranjan Shrestha said troops had recovered nine bodies and spotted six more half-buried in the snow.
The dead in snowstorm includes 14 Nepalese, four Canadians, two Israelis, one Pole, one Vietnamese, one Indian and one German. Victims with minor injuries were given first aid at local clinics while at least 14 trekkers from Hong Kong and Israel were airlifted to a military hospital in Kathmandu suffering from frostbite and exposure. A government spokesmen said that three needed treatment, while 11 were recovering.
â€œAfter the Everest tragedy this is another bit of bad news for Nepal tourism Industry. It will have large negative impression on the trekking business, with concerns about the safety of the tourists,â€ said Ganga Sagar. He criticised authorities for failing to take precautions following warnings that the cyclone was approaching. â€œAfter the news of [the cyclone] in India we could have thought this could happen. Ignoring the cyclone was a big mistake. This will affect next year as well until and unless we are able to provide safe trekking people will still fear to go to the area,â€ Gangar Sagar said.
The cyclone, which caused widespread devastation in eastern India, also brought downpours to parts of central and western Nepal, including the hilly Gorkha district, where rescuers are searching for a 67-year-old Frenchman who fell into a river on Tuesday morning while trekking. â€œBecause of the overflowing Budhi Gandaki, it is not possible to search the river,â€ Gorkha police chief Ramesh Thapa told AFP news agency.
The hiker was part of a team of 10 tourists heading up the scenic Manaslu route, named after Mount Manaslu, the worldâ€™s eighth-highest peak. It has been developed as an alternative to the crowded Annapurna circuit. The incident highlighted the disproportionate risks that Nepali guides take to help foreign climbers â€“ some without any prior mountaineering experience â€“ reach the summit. Guiding foreign climbers is the main livelihood for sherpas, helping them make up to $8,000 (Â£5,000) or more each year in a country with an average annual income of just over $700. Climate experts say rising global temperatures have contributed to avalanches on the Himalayan mountains.