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Blizzard, Avalanches Kill More Than 27 Trekkers In Nepal


In Nepal, a fierce early winter blizzard has claimed the lives of at least 27 trekkers. They were killed on the popular Annapurna circuit in the Himalayas. Others are still missing. The dead included Nepali herders and guides, as well as hikers from Vietnam and Israel to Canada and Poland. The BBC's Andrew North is in Kathmandu and he's been talking with survivors about the fast-moving conditions that trapped hundreds near the top of a high mountain pass.

ANDREW NORTH, BYLINE: There's actually a small shelter or actually a tee shop that is run just during the trekking season at the top of the pass. And people crowded inside there as the weather kind of got worse and worse around them - huge dumps of snow coming down. And they were then trying to decide well, was it best to stay put or whether to try make a break for it? Because many were already starting to suffer from hypothermia - and from what we understand, it was actually a group that decided to make a break for it who came off worse. And they started to descend and they quickly got lost in the white-out conditions. And then many succumbed to exposure.

BLOCK: And along with the blizzard and the deaths from exposure that you're describing, there were also avalanches, right?

NORTH: That's right because the amount of snow that's come down - we're talking about six feet or more of fresh snow. And of course when you've got so much fresh snow, the wind blowing around, it's highly unstable. And one man I was talking to today who was an Australian, he was saying there were just avalanches - were shooting down everywhere. And he was actually very grateful to his guides because they'd been staying in a hut slightly further down the mountain not actually on the pass itself. But because the guides realized just how much snow was coming down, they told him and his climbing buddy to move to another hut. And the next morning they found that that hut where they had been was completely buried in snow.

BLOCK: Along with the efforts to recover the bodies of those who died on the circuit, there're also rescue efforts underway. How are those going? And are they finding survivors?

NORTH: Dozens of people have now been rescued. The latest we've heard from the authorities is that over 200 people have actually been rescued. But of course also, this gives you an idea of the scale of just how many people were caught up in this. Because, you know, this is the peak of the trekking season. This is one of the most popular trails. And it gives you an idea of just how many people now try to do routes like this.

BLOCK: Andrew, this is being described as a freakish blizzard - the effects of a cyclone that hit India. Were there any weather warnings at all?

NORTH: There's already some dispute about this. Some say there were some warnings. Others are saying well, there weren't enough. But I think also this is a bit of a reminder to a lot of people that even though trekking and hiking is a much safer thing to do than trying to climb the mountains, it's still dangerous. And, I mean, I think also talking to some of the survivors today, it was striking how some of them perhaps, you know, they hadn't fully taken on board the potential risks that they could run in going on a trek like this.

BLOCK: This disaster along the trekking route in Nepal is on the heels of another disaster in April on Mount Everest - 16 Nepalese guides were killed in that. What are the effects of this on Nepal - on the country itself - and the industry?

NORTH: It's a very complicated picture because the thousands of climbers and trekkers that come here every year are a critical source of revenue for Nepal, which is still one of the poorest countries in Asia. Disasters like this most recent one involving the trekkers is definitely raising concerns here that this whole business model could be affected. It could be lost if more of these incidents keep happening.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Andrew North of the BBC. He's in Kathmandu, Nepal. Andrew, thanks so much.

NORTH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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