SEVERE snow in the Himalayas in Nepal’s central region is reported to have killed at least 21 people, ten of them foreign tourists.
The highest number of deaths – two Israelis, two Poles and eight Nepalese – happened when a blizzard hit a point on the Annapurna Circuit.
Scores of trekkers remain out of contact while returning from an Annapurna Circuit pass.
Meanwhile, five more climbers are presumed dead after an avalanche in nearby Manang district.
At least 12 people, including eight foreign hikers and a group of yak herders, were killed in Nepal by unseasonal blizzards and avalanches triggered by the tail of cyclone Hudhud, officials said. Two more foreign climbers and three Nepalese guides were reported missing.
The hikers’ deaths came during the peak trekking season in Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountain peaks, including Mount Everest.
For the past two days, Nepal has been lashed by heavy rains brought on by the cyclone that has battered neighbouring India. The weather triggered blizzards at high altitudes.
The bodies of a Nepal citizen, two Polish nationals and an Israeli hiker from the Thorang-La area were found along a popular trekking route near Annapurna, the world’s tenth-highest mountain, said Baburam Bhandari, governor of the district of Mustang, where the incident took place.
Mr Bhandari said all the people who died had perished in blizzard conditions. “We have rescued five German, five Polish and four Israeli trekkers who were trapped in the snowfall early on Wednesday,” he said.
Mustang, a fertile valley bordering Tibet, is 93 miles northwest of the Nepali capital, Katmandu, and popular among foreign hikers.
Separately, in the neighbouring district of Manang, four Canadian hikers and an Indian national were killed in an avalanche, the district’s most senior bureaucrat, Devendra Lamichhane, said.
“The pilot of a rescue helicopter spotted the bodies in snow,” Mr Lamichhane said. “But it is not possible to retrieve their bodies because it is snowing heavily in the area now.”
Three yak herders were killed after being swept away by a separate avalanche at Nar village in Manang, officials said.
Two climbers from Slovakia and three Nepalese guides were also missing as night fell after an avalanche near the base camp of Dhaulagiri late on Tuesday night, tourism department officials said. Dhaulagiri is the world’s eighth-highest peak, at 26,795ft.
Other hikers are still believed to be out of contact because the bad weather disrupted communications, officials said.
Nepal’s tourism industry is still recovering from the aftershocks of an ice avalanche that struck the lower reaches of Everest in April, killing 16 sherpa guides in the worst disaster in the history of the world’s highest peak.
More than a tenth of the nearly 800,000 tourists who visited Nepal in 2013 went hiking or mountain climbing, providing a key revenue stream for the cash-strapped nation, which relies on income from tourism for 4 per cent of its gross domestic product.
Nepal’s high peaks attract some of the world’s best climbers, but trekking is generally safe and appeals to masses of ordinary outdoor enthusiasts.