Search teams in army helicopters rescued dozens of stranded foreign trekkers and recovered more bodies of victims of a blizzard and avalanches in the mountains of northern Nepal on Thursday, raising the death toll to 27, officials said.
Four Canadians were among the dead, while several Canadians were also among the roughly 70 people still missing along or near the popular Annapurna trail.
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 the capital, 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.
The co-founder of Montreal-based travel agency Terra Ultima has said three Quebecers are among those missing and are feared dead.
Julien Passerini said 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.
“The group of five people, accompanied by an experienced guide, left Canada for Nepal on Oct. 3 for a three-week trip,” Terra Ultima said in a statement.
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.
Two Ottawa women — Jane Van Criekingen and Virginia Schwartz — were also initially believed to be missing but Schwartz posted a message on her Facebook page early Thursday saying she is safe.
“We are trekking out of the avalanche danger zone and heading back down along the circuit,” wrote Schwartz. “We are now in Manang on the lower side of the pass and hope to be in Pokhara in 3-4 days.
Schwartz’s brother, Mark, earlier told an Ottawa radio station that he had unconfirmed reports that “both Virginia and Jane are OK.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper took to Twitter to voice his sympathy.
“Laureen and I express our condolences to the families and friends of the four Canadians who lost their lives in an avalanche in Nepal,” he wrote.
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.
The climbers, two Slovaks and three Nepali guides, were preparing to scale the 8,167-meter peak, the world’s seventh tallest, said Gyanedra Shrestha of Nepal’s mountaineering department. Their bodies were recovered Thursday.
An avalanche in April just above the base camp on Mount Everest killed 16 Nepalese guides, the deadliest single disaster on the mountain. Climate experts say rising global temperatures have contributed to avalanches in the Himalayas.