KATHMANDU — Rescuers in Nepal searched on Monday for seven missing climbers after an avalanche swept away their tents and killed nine others ahead of a final push on one of the world's highest and deadliest mountains.
Police said the group were near the peak of the 8,156-metre (26,759-foot) Manaslu when they were hit by a wall of snow as they were sleeping at 4:00 am on Sunday (2215 GMT, Saturday).
Four of the dead and three of the missing are French, France's national union of mountain guides (SNGM) told AFP while mountaineering officials in Nepal said an Italian, a German, at least one Spaniard and a Nepali Sherpa had died.
"Seven climbers are missing. The rescue efforts were hampered due to bad weather yesterday. They will resume this morning," ministry spokesman Gyanendra Shrestha told AFP.
Rescuers were hopeful of finding survivors alive, the ministry said, with the weather improving early Monday.
"The missing may have survived because climbers have survived for up to three days in the past," said Mohan Sapkota, another official in the ministry.
Basanta Bahadur Kunwar, the local deputy superintendent of police, told AFP by telephone that 13 people had so far been rescued alive.
Meanwhile harrowing accounts of the avalanche began to emerge from survivors being treated in Kathmandu.
"All of a sudden, there was darkness. I could imagine that we were buried under an avalanche," Andreas Reiter, 26, of Germany, was quoted as telling the Himalayan Times from his hospital bed in the capital.
"I witnessed one of the team members die."
SNGM vice-president Christian Trommsdorff described the French victims as three mountain guides from the Chamonix area in the Alps and four of their clients, who were part of two expeditions.
"The four dead have been identified by their photos and three are missing, as well as two injured who have been evacuated by helicopter to Kathmandu," he said.
The avalanche happened at around 7,400 metres and carried away part of camp number three at 6,800 metres, Trommsdorff told AFP.
Among those reported missing was a doctor from the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, cardiologist Dominique Ouimet, the man's sister said.
"The tents seem to have disappeared because the avalanche came by," Isabelle Ouimet told Radio Canada, adding that her brother was at camp three when the avalanche struck.
The tourism ministry had earlier said that a German and Spanish man had died alongside a male local guide. The gender of the other dead and injured was unclear.
However, a German foreign ministry spokesman said there was no official confirmation that a German national had been killed.
Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world, is considered one of the most dangerous, with scores of deaths in recent years and just a few hundred successful ascents.
Laxmi Dhakal, head of the home ministry's disaster response division, confirmed the avalanche had hit camp three and said it had created "a flood of snow".
Nepal is home to eight of the world's 14 peaks over 8,000 metres, including the world's highest, Mount Everest, and attracts thousands of mountaineers every year.
Most come in the spring, when Himalayan conditions are at their best, but there is also a short climbing season in late September and October after the monsoon rains end.
Nepal's worst-ever climbing disaster happened in 1995 when a huge avalanche struck the camp of a Japanese trekking group in the Mount Everest region, killing 42 people including 13 Japanese.
Manaslu saw its worst disaster when a South Korean expedition was buried by snow while attempting to climb the northeast face in 1972. The 15 dead included 10 Sherpas and the Korean expedition leader.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »