An avalanche and blizzard in Nepal’s mountainous north have killed at least 12 people, including four Canadians, officials said Wednesday.
The avalanche buried four Canadians and one Indian trekker in Phu, Nepal. Their bodies have been recovered, the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal said in a statement.
The identities of the dead have not been released. At least three Canadians have been rescued by the trekking company Panorama Himalaya.
Three of the trekkers killed in the avalanche on Wednesday were hiking with Panorama Himalaya while the fourth, a Canadian woman, was with Nepal Hidden Treks.
Six hikers from Quebec are missing in the area, Radio-Canada reported. The hikers travelled to Phu on Oct. 4, as part of a trek with Montreal travel agency Terra Ultima.
Among the missing are two women, Virginia Schwartz, 37, and her friend, Jane Van Criekingen, Schwartz’s brother, Mark, confirmed Wednesday.
The women were last heard from on Saturday and have not responded to repeated attempts to reach them since news of the tragedy emerged.
Schwartz is a resident of Pontiac, Que., just across the Ontario-Quebec border from Ottawa. Van Criekingen is also believed to be from the area.
Worried friends and family members can also consult a Facebook page set up to funnel information about the incident, which has touched families from around the world and has the potential to affect more still with upwards of 150 trekkers still unaccounted for.
In addition to Schwartz and Van Criekingen, Terra Ultima said three individuals who had been part of a six-member group disappeared in an avalanche in the region of Naar-Phu, northeast of the Annapurnas.
This group — five hikers and an experienced guide — had departed Canada Oct. 3 for a three-week trip.
Reports said the missing included two people from Montreal and another from Quebec City.
At least one other Canadian tour operator was in the region when the heavy storms and resulting avalanche hit.
Montreal-based Karavaniers said on its Facebook page that its entire group was accounted for and unharmed. They were waiting until Thursday to be evacuated by helicopter, wrote Christine Plaisant, a travel specialist with the company.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the government was “aware of reports that Canadian citizens were involved,” but would not release any other information.
On his Twitter page, Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrote that he and his wife, Laureen, expressed their “condolences to the families and friends of the four Canadians who lost their lives in an avalanche in Nepal.”
Officials in the capital, Kathmandu, say they fear the death toll will continue to rise as rescuers fight their way through snow and mountains to help dozens who are stranded.
Three villagers were killed on Monday in the same district, about 160 kilometres northwest of Kathmandu, and their bodies were recovered Wednesday.
Many of the bodies are buried in snow and digging them out will take days, said Devendra Lamichane, chief administrator of Manang district.
In the neighbouring Mustang district, four trekkers caught in a blizzard died on Tuesday.
Rescuers have recovered the bodies of two Poles, one Israeli and one Nepali trekker from the Thorong La pass area.
It was initially thought that group had been caught in an avalanche, but government official Yam Bahadur Chokyal said the four trekkers were caught in the blizzard and died.
Another 14 foreign trekkers have been rescued so far, he said. Two army helicopters were picking up injured trekkers and flying them to Jomsom town.
The rescued trekkers include five Polish and four Israelis, Nepal News reported.
Weather improved on Wednesday and several trekkers were able to reach safe ground, but Chokyal said it was not possible to say how many were still stranded by the deep snow.
The rain and snow in Nepal were caused by a cyclone that hit neighbouring India several days ago.
Heavy snow has buried many telephone lines that connect to the area where the four trekkers were killed on Tuesday, said Ngima Sherpa, who is based in Kathmandu and works as a guide in the Mustang district.
October is the most popular trekking season in Nepal, with thousands of foreigners hiking around Nepal’s Himalayan mountains.
The Thorong La pass is also on the route that circles Mount Annapurna, the world’s 10th highest peak.
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 on the Himalayan mountains.
- With files from The Associated Press