(AP) — Nepalese officials closed a section of a popular Himalayan trekking route Sunday after rescuers, overwhelmed with last week’s snowstorms that killed 38 hikers, had to bring to safety new climbers who set out on the same mountain trails where the blizzards struck.
The dead from the blizzards and avalanches that hit the upper section of the Annapurna Circuit in northern Nepal included foreign trekkers, local guides and villagers. Most among the hundreds of trekkers who had been stuck in the snow have been brought to safety, and government official Yama Bahadur Chokhyal said rescue helicopters were winding down flights.
As the weather cleared, new climbers were already making their way up the same trail despite obvious dangers, prompting the government to close the route, Chokhyal said.
“Our rescuers and helicopters ended up having to bring down these new people while we were still trying to reach the ones who were stranded by the blizzard,” he said.
“It was burdening and confusing the rescuers so they had to be stopped,” he said.
The route was deemed unsafe and invisible in many sections because of the snow dumped by the blizzard.
The death toll from last week’s disaster — the worst in Nepal’s recent history — went up Saturday after a rescue helicopter spotted nine more bodies.
Ram Chandra Sharma of the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal, who is also coordinating the rescue operation, said there were no immediate plans to retrieve the bodies believed to be of Nepalese porters at the Shanta pass area, located at an altitude of 5,100 meters (16,730 feet).
The steep terrain made it impossible for the helicopter to land to pick up the bodies, said Yadav Koirala from the Disaster Management Division in Katmandu.
So far, 25 of the fatalities have been identified, including those from Canada, India, Israel, Slovakia, Poland and Japan. Eight of the dead were Nepalese. Thirteen others have not yet been identified,
The snowstorms were whipped by the tail end of a cyclone that hit the Indian coast a few days earlier. The blizzards swept through the Annapurna trekking route and hikers were caught off-guard when the weather changed quickly.
Most of the people were on or near the Annapurna Circuit, a 220-kilometer (140-mile) trail through the mountain, the 10th-highest in the world. The biggest number of casualties was among those caught in the blizzard on Thorong La pass, which is one of the highest points on the Annapurna.