Avalanche, Landslide Survivors Returning to Nepal’s Capital
KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ Tourists who survived a deadly blizzard on some of the world’s highest mountains began returning to the capital today, hugging one another in relief.
At least 44 trekkers died after a fierce storm late last week set off avalanches and landslides near the base of Mount Everest and other Himalayan peaks. Nepalese authorities rescued 497 others _ 56 today.
Russell Brice of New Zealand was leading a group of trekkers when an avalanche killed 26 hikers nearby.
``I was lucky to get myself out and manage to reach a safer place,″ he said. Like many other people, he had to wait a day and a half in six feet of snow before they were spotted by rescuers in helicopters and small planes.
Brice and other rescued tourists were dropped off in safe areas in eastern Nepal. Today the first groups of survivors were flown to Katmandu.
Many hugged one another as they walked into the Katmandu airport terminal. Officials from local tourist companies placed necklaces of marigolds over their heads.
Rod Supple, 62, a retired engineer from Santa Rosa, Calif., was worried about relatives back home. ``Can you let our families know that we weren’t trapped by an avalanche, that we’re OK?″ he asked.
Nearby, U.S. Embassy staffers held up large white signs saying ``U.S. Embassy″ and scanned the crowd for Americans.
Lt. Col. Lok Bahadur Thapa, a director of the rescue operation, said a helicopter had spotted 13 more people stranded today near an avalanche in the Gokyo Valley _ the worst-hit area.
``Our priority now is to evacuate injured people, especially those with frostbite and snow blindness,″ Thapa said.
It was unknown whether all the tourists and trekkers in the area have been accounted for.
October and November are the peak months for trekkers in Nepal because the weather is normally clear. Thousands of foreigners had registered to hike through its lower mountains when the unexpected storm was touched off by a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal.