KATHMANDU - A snowstorm and avalanche in Nepal's Himalayas has killed nine trekkers - eight foreigners and one Nepali - on a popular hiking circuit, while more than 100 others remain out of contact, officials said Wednesday.
Severe weather triggered by the tail end of Cyclone Hudhud, which battered neighbouring India's east coast, hit the groups of trekkers on the Annapurna circuit in central Nepal on Tuesday.
As the weather cleared on Wednesday in the remote Mustang and Manang districts, rescuers, trudging through waist-deep snow, found 17 stranded trekkers, but another 143 foreign tourists remain out of contact.
Four bodies, those of two Poles one Israeli and a local trekker, were discovered buried in the snow in Mustang, said police official Ganesh Rai who heads the rescue effort.
"There has been heavy snowfall in the area, up to three feet (91 centimetres)," Rai said.
"Among the dead are two Polish trekkers and one Israeli. A Nepali was also buried by the snow," Rai told AFP.
Rescuers, aided by a Nepal army helicopter and several others hired by trekking agencies, also found the bodies of five hikers caught in an avalanche in neighbouring Manang.
"A chopper search has located the bodies of five people, including four Canadians and an Indian, killed in an avalanche, bringing the total number of dead to nine," Rai said.
In a separate incident in Manang, three yak herders were killed in another avalanche on Tuesday while grazing their animals, district official Devendra Lamichanne told AFP.
A local official said he hoped that those trekkers still missing in the region had simply been cut off by the blizzard.
"The phone network is not very good so we have not been able to get in touch with the missing, but we hope to find them later today," said Mustang district official Baburam Bhandari.
In a separate incident, rescuers are searching for a 67-year-old Frenchman who fell into a river on Tuesday while following the Manaslu trekking route, police said.
Indian cyclone sparked snowfall
Thousands of trekkers visit the Annapurna region every October, when weather conditions are usually favourable for hiking trips.
However, the region has seen unusually heavy snowfall this week as a result of Cyclone Hudhud, which struck India's east coast at the weekend, killing 22 people and causing widespread devastation there.
The cyclone also sparked heavy downpours in other parts of central and western Nepal, including the hilly Gorkha district, where the French trekker slipped and fell into the Budhi Gandaki river.
"The accident happened around 9 am on Tuesday... we think it was because the track was slippery due to recent heavy rains. Rescue operations are ongoing," Gorkha police chief Ramesh Thapa told AFP.
The hiker was part of a team of 10 tourists heading up the scenic Manaslu route, named after Mount Manaslu, the world's eighth highest peak. It has been developed as an alternative to the crowded Annapurna circuit.
In April the deadliest avalanche to hit Mount Everest killed 16 people and forced an unprecedented shutdown of the world's highest peak.
The avalanche that tore through a group of sherpas - who were hauling gear up the mountain for their foreign clients before dawn - saw scores of expeditions cancelled.
The effective closure of the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) mountain for the season dealt a huge blow to the impoverished Himalayan nation, which relies heavily on tourism revenues from climbing and trekking.