When disaster struck Nepal’s Annapurna mountain range, Marc Voyer and Rose Maninang were sitting by a fire, listening to local musicians play in a warm village tea house.
What they didn’t know is that, for the next three days, their families would wait in agony, fearing that the Toronto couple may have been among those lost beneath the driving snow and avalanches that swept the region this week.
But on Friday, finally, they sent an email home. They are safe and sound in the village of Pokhara, having hiked through the hardest hit mountain passes just days before they were rocked by the remnants of a cyclone that swooped over Indian subcontinent.
“We had no idea people thought we were missing. It was strange,” said Maninang, 39, who spoke with the Star over Skype from Nepal.
“From the exclamation marks coming back in the emails, it was like ‘Thank God you’re OK,’ ” added Voyer, 38. “If we were a little slower, and a few days back, it would be a completely different story.”
The Torontonians are among at least five people from the city who were hiking in Nepal when deadly blizzards and strong winds hit the popular Annapurna trekking circuit northwest of Kathmandu. The storm triggered a series of avalanches that buried hikers and guides in snow and stranded hundreds in the high mountain passes. At least 29 people have been confirmed dead, The Associated Press reports, including four Canadians — three from Quebec and one from Vancouver.
As efforts continue to retrieve bodies and airlift survivors from the area, people with missing relatives have followed updates from the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), which is leading the search operation. There is also a Facebook group for information about missing people, which saw a stream of updates as people finally made contact with loved ones or pleaded for help to track them down.
Dave Todd, a relative of Toronto’s John Todd, Samantha Todd and Jennifer Ginder, said the family received word that they are alive from a trekking company on Friday.
“We haven’t heard directly from them,” Todd cautioned. “You’re not 100 per cent until you hear from them, and we’re still waiting for that.”
Since the storm struck on Tuesday, Nepalese army and privately-owned helicopters have been removing survivors from the hardest hit regions of the mountain range. As of Friday afternoon local time, 218 people had been rescued, including 15 Canadians, mostly from the Manang and Mustang districts, said Dilip Paudel, head of mission at the Embassy of Nepal in Ottawa.
“There are many still missing,” he said, describing how some people were trapped by avalanches and awaiting rescue. Officials in Nepal believe there are still many people buried in the snow, he added. “They will start searching again (Saturday) morning.”
Earlier this week, reports from a local trekking company said three people from Quebec had been killed by an avalanche. On Friday, a fourth Canadian killed in an avalanche was identified as Vancouver’s Jan Rooks, a cardiology nurse clinician who travelled to Nepal last month for a hiking trip with her husband, according to a statement from the B.C. Children’s Health Network.
“It is with deep, deep sadness that we must share the news that Jan Rooks … has passed away very suddenly when she was caught in an avalanche in the Annapurna region of Nepal,” the post reads.
“It seems impossible that someone like Jan can be gone from our lives in the blink of an eye. She will be so sadly missed.”
From the safety of Pokhara, at the end of the Annapurna circuit, Maninang and Voyer said they feel lucky and relieved to have narrowly missed the brunt of the deadly storm — having reached a lower altitude, they only experienced heavy and persistent rain.
“We had no idea,” said Maninang. “We just hope more of the trekkers are found, and hopefully, alive.”