WATCH ABOVE: More than 20 trekkers, including four Canadians, have died and dozens of others are missing after a powerful storm pushed into Nepal, causing an avalanche and blizzard conditions. Eric Sorenson has the details.
KATHMANDU, Nepal – Officials say an avalanche and a blizzard in Nepal’s mountainous north have killed at least 12 people, including four Canadians.
Global News learned Virginia Schwartz and Jane Van Criekingen were among the missing Canadian women, but according to Schwartz’s brother, Mark, they have since been found safe.
The co-founder of Montreal-based travel agency Terra Ultima said Wednesday three Quebecers are among those missing and feared dead.
Julien Passerini said there were six Quebecers in the area, including a guide. The six left Canada on Oct. 3 for three weeks.
The three people he described as missing were two women in their 50s and one in her 30s. One of the three is the guide.
A statement from the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal said the bodies of five people – four Canadians and one Indian trekker – were recovered from Phu area in Manang district.
A company called Panorama Himalaya confirmed the death of three Canadian clients in an avalanche while a company called Nepal Hidden Treks confirmed the death of a Canadian woman.
Panorama Himalaya also said it had rescued three other Canadian trekkers, according to the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal.
Though avalanches and blizzards are typically expected at the same time, avalanche engineering expert Dr. Dave McClung said what’s unusual is that this avalanche could have affected a trekking party.
“Normally, in the high mountains they only affect mountaineering parties since trekking routes are too low in altitude to be affected,” he wrote in an email to Global News.
McClung said he has compiled a database of avalanche fatalities in the high mountains of Asia since about 1895, and this is the first he’s heard of a trekking party being affected—though he cautions that information is still sketchy at this early stage.
“One possibility is that the cyclone brought large amounts of snow to elevations where it would not normally occur. Another factor: mountain climbers usually have expertise/training in predicting avalanches whereas that would not normally be the case for people trekking,” he said.
Based on his past experience both climbing and trekking in Asia’s high mountains, McClung suggested trekkers normally have “very little knowledge of avalanches.”
“For climbers, avalanches are the second leading cause of death in the high mountains of Asia following falls.”
The death toll was likely to rise as rescuers struggled through snow and rough terrain to help dozens who remained stranded, the officials said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper took to Twitter to voice his sympathy.
“Laureen and I express our condolences to the families and friends of the four Canadians who lost their lives in an avalanche in Nepal,” he wrote.
Three villagers were killed Monday in the same district, about 160 kilometres northwest of the capital, Kathmandu, and their bodies were recovered on Wednesday.
In the neighbouring Mustang district, four trekkers caught in a blizzard died Tuesday.
Rescuers recovered the bodies of the 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 instead had been caught in the blizzard and died.
He said another 14 foreign trekkers have been rescued so far, and two army helicopters were picking up injured trekkers and flying them to Jomsom town.
Chokyal said it was not possible to say how many trekkers were still on the route stranded by the deep snow but several of them have reached safe ground on Wednesday because of improved weather.
Five other climbers – two from Slovakia and three Nepalese guides – were hit by a separate avalanche on Mount Dhaulagiri and remained missing.
The rain and snow in Nepal were caused by a cyclone that hit neighbouring India several days ago.
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 Global News
© 2014 The Canadian Press