A Canadian survivor of the Nepal avalanche that killed at least 27 people has described a harrowing tale of being buried waist-high in thick, heavy snow on a “nightmare” of a day.
Quebecer Sonia Leveque said she thought she was going to die and that she and her fellow trekkers are fortunate to be alive.
“We fought for survival and we were lucky,” she said in an interview from Nepal with RDI, Radio-Canada’s all-news network.
“I think nobody in the group wanted to die.”
She said Tuesday was a “nightmare” and that nobody in her small group saw the avalanche coming.
“It happened extremely quickly — within seconds, we were separated,” Leveque said.
“Three people in our group were swept away (and) we tried to find them but there was about 20 metres of snow accumulated at the bottom of the avalanche.”
The death toll in the tragedy was revised upward Thursday to 27, with four Canadians among the dead and others among the roughly 70 people missing.
Leveque said she and her fellow travellers remained shaken up on Thursday but will stay in Kathmandu for at least a few days to see how the rest of the rescue operation unfolds.
One of the men in her group lost his wife in the tragedy and Leveque said it was important to stay with him to give him support.
Three Quebec women were reported missing, including Genevieve Adam. Her father feared the worst as he travelled to Nepal while the search continued.
“He wants to be there with her,” said Francois Adam, the man’s brother. “It’s his little girl and he won’t leave her there.”
But Adam was not optimistic.
“The last information did not give us a lot of hope,” he told RDI. “She was caught in the avalanche that rolled down and, unfortunately, there’s not much hope.”
Adam said his niece was asleep in her tent with other trekkers at the time.
“What I know is that it happened at around four o’clock in the morning,” he said. “She was sleeping, (and) bang! it hit and passed over them and they were carried down along with the avalanche. It happened just like that.”
Adam said Genevieve loved to travel and that it was her dream to visit Nepal and trek in the Himalayas.
“She talked about it last winter. It was a dream to make that expedition because it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world to go trekking. She accomplished her dream.”
Adam said his brother had two daughters and added that the entire family was in a state of shock.
“We’re realizing even more what’s happening, the magnitude of it,” he said. “We’re not alone. There are other young people who perished in that (avalanche).”
On Thursday, search teams in army helicopters rescued dozens of stranded foreign trekkers and recovered more bodies in mountains in the northern part of the country.
Ganga Sagar Pant of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal said the death toll in the area was expected to rise.
The route, 160 kilometres northwest of Kathmandu, was filled with international hikers during the peak October trekking season, when the air is generally clear and cool. There were also many Nepalese on the trails because of local festivals.
Terra Ultima, the Montreal-based travel agency that said three Quebecers were among those missing and feared dead, issued an update on Thursday.
It said it was focused on rescue efforts and providing support for the families of those who disappeared as well as for the trekkers who have returned to Kathmandu.
The statement also said a company representative and a Canadian government envoy were due to arrive on Thursday.
Terra Ultima said earlier that six Quebecers in all were in the area, including those missing: two women in their 50s and one in her 30s. One of the three is the hikers’ guide.
A statement from the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal said the bodies of four Canadians were recovered from the Phu area in Manang district.
A company called Panorama Himalaya confirmed the deaths of three Canadian clients in an avalanche while a company called Nepal Hidden Treks confirmed the death of a Canadian woman.
Panorama Himalaya also said it had rescued three other Canadian trekkers, according to the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal.
Nepal government administrator Yama Bahadur Chokhyal said Thursday that rescuers recovered 10 more bodies from the Thorong La pass area, where they had been caught in a sudden blizzard Tuesday. The bodies were not yet identified.
Chokhyal said 64 more foreign trekkers were rescued from the area on Thursday. Two trekkers from Hong Kong and 12 Israelis were airlifted Wednesday to Kathmandu, where they were being treated at a hospital.
They said they survived by taking refuge in a small tea shop along the path.
“I was sure I was going to die on the way to the pass because I lost my group, I lost all the people I was with and I could not see anything,” said Linor Kajan, an injured trekker from Israel, who said she was stuck in waist-deep snow.
“One Nepalese guide who knows the way saw me and asked me to stay with him. And he dragged me, really dragged me to the tea shop. And everybody there was really frightened,” she said.
Another Israeli survivor, Yakov Megreli, said they tried to stay awake in the tea shop to stay warm.
“We tried not to sleep. We tried not to get hypothermia. It was a very frightening and awful situation,” he said.
Authorities said five climbers were killed in a separate avalanche about 75 kilometres to the west, at the base camp for Mount Dhaulagiri.