Nepal Annapurna: Trekking disaster toll reaches 39

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Media captionAndrew North reports on how rescue teams are still looking for survivors

Snowstorms and avalanches have killed 39 trekkers on a popular hiking route in the Himalayas, Nepali officials say.

After a fourth day of searches, 384 people have been rescued from the Annapurna trail, 216 of them foreigners, in the country's worst-ever trekking disaster.

Helicopters have been searching parts of the trail high as 5,790m (19,000ft) for survivors.

The government said the priority was to rescue 22 stranded hikers.

The trekkers are stranded at Thorung La pass, and face a shortage of food and water. Army helicopters tried to rescue them but failed after being unable to land.

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Image caption An injured trekker from Israel on a bus to Kathmandu on Saturday

The BBC's Andrew North in Nepal says that it is still unclear which climbers have been accounted for and which are still missing.

The task of the authorities is made more complicated because there are thousands of climbers in Nepal at this time of the year.

Severe frostbite

Army helicopters tried unsuccessfully to rescue them on Saturday between the Mustang and Dolpa districts, government rescue coordinator Suresh Acharya said.

Twenty bodies have been recovered but 19 bodies are still in the snow and a rescue team will be deployed on Sunday to dig them out and retrieve them by air, he said.

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Media captionPaul Sherridan: "I looked at a boy and his face was frozen"

One of the main trekking routes - the Thorung La pass, the high point of the Annapurna Circuit - is now "relatively safe" after the army cleared snow, he said earlier.

Rescuers have only limited resources and most of the missing and dead are believed to be at the maximum heights that helicopters can reach.

Nepalese, Japanese, Israeli, Canadian, Indian, Slovak, Vietnamese and Polish trekkers are said to be among the dead.

Many survivors have been left with severe frostbite and will have to have limbs amputated.

Nepal earns huge revenues from the tens of thousands of trekkers and climbers who flock to the Himalayas every year.

However, it remains a very poor country and the authorities here have struggled to cope with the scale of this disaster, our correspondent says.

This has been a particularly deadly year for Nepal's trekking and mountaineering industry.

An avalanche on Mount Everest in April killed 16 Sherpa guides and resulted in a significant drop in the number of expeditions to the world's highest peak.

The latest disaster comes at the height of the trekking period.

What is the Annapurna Circuit?

  • Roughly 241km (150 miles), takes around three weeks to complete
  • Described as "the best long distance trek in the world"
  • Known as the "apple pie" circuit due to the baked goods offered by tea houses along the route
  • Ascends to 5,416m (17,776ft) at the Thorung La Pass
  • Opened to tourists in 1977 after conflicts between guerrillas and the Nepalese army were resolved
  • Circuit passes Mount Annapurna, world's 10th highest mountain and one of the most dangerous

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