KATHMANDU - Rescuers in Nepal battled waist-deep snow as they searched a remote mountainous area popular with trekkers for dozens of people still missing on Thursday, two days after a major snowstorm that triggered avalanches and killed more than 30 people.
Local officials said 23 bodies have been found on the popular Annapurna circuit trekking route, while five climbers who were staying at a mountain base camp when it was hit by an avalanche could not be found and were presumed dead.
Three Nepalese yak herders were also killed when severe weather triggered by the tail end of Cyclone Hudhud hit the picturesque Annapurna region in central Nepal.
But the majority of victims were tourists - among them Canadians, Israelis and Indians - and their guides.
Thousands of people head to the Annapurna region every October, when weather conditions are usually clear and cool.
A major rescue effort using helicopters and emergency workers on foot is under way and authorities said 43 stranded trekkers had been rescued in the region so far.
In all, 168 foreign tourists were registered to hike in the affected districts, Manang and Mustang, and authorities are now trying to track the rest of them down, with efforts hampered by poor telecommunications.
"We have intensified our searches, the focus is on finding survivors rather than dead bodies," said Keshav Pandey, who is coordinating the rescue effort of the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN).
"We have learnt that around 23 foreign tourists are safe and waiting at a small guesthouse near Thorong Phedi in Manang, we will rescue them as soon as possible," Pandey told AFP.
Another 26 trekkers and porters - including 22 foreigners - are stranded at a guesthouse at Thorong High Camp, located at an altitude of 4800 metres (15,748 feet) in Manang, a US hiker stuck there said.
Max Weinstein, 18, told AFP he sought refuge at the guesthouse after he found himself in the grip of the snowstorm.
"We left our hotel in Thorong Phedi at 0630 am on Tuesday, with hotel staff telling us it was totally safe to go up," Weinstein said speaking by phone from the hotel.
As he and a 66-year-old woman he was trekking with hiked on, visibility worsened as more and more snow began to come down.
"The snow kept getting heavier, we couldn't see anything, and soon these big rocks began falling down," he said.
After hearing booming sounds that "sounded like avalanches", they decided to stop at the guesthouse, where some two dozen trekkers are now waiting for assistance.