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Nepal blizzard, avalanche death toll rises to 27

By BINAJ GURUBACHARYA

Associated Press KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) - Search teams in army helicopters rescued dozens of stranded foreign trekkers and recovered more bodies of victims of a blizzard and avalanches in Nepal's northern mountains Thursday, raising the death toll to 27.

About 70 people were still missing along or near the popular Annapurna trail, said Ganga Sagar Pant of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, and the death toll there was expected to rise.

The route, 160 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of the capital, Katmandu, was filled with international hikers during the peak October trekking season, when the air is generally clear and cool. There were also many Nepalese on the trails because of local festivals.

Government administrator Yama Bahadur Chokhyal said rescuers recovered 10 more bodies from the Thorong La pass area, where they had been caught in a sudden blizzard Tuesday.

The bodies were not yet identified. The bodies of two Poles, an Israeli and a Nepalese were recovered from the area on Wednesday.

Chokhyal said 64 more foreign trekkers were rescued from the area on Thursday. Two trekkers from Hong Kong and 12 Israelis were airlifted Wednesday to Katmandu, where they were being treated at a hospital.

They said they survived by taking refuge in a small tea shop along the path.

"I was sure I was going to die on the way to the pass because I lost my group, I lost all the people I was with and I could not see anything," said Linor Kajan, an injured Israeli who said she was stuck in waist-deep snow.

"One Nepalese guide who knows the way saw me and asked me to stay with him. And he dragged me, really dragged me to the tea shop. And everybody there was really frightened," she said.

Another Israeli survivor, Yakov Megreli, said they tried to stay awake in the tea shop to stay warm.

"We tried not to sleep. We tried not to get hypothermia. It was a very frightening and awful situation," he said.

The blizzard, the tail end of a cyclone that hit the Indian coast a few days earlier, appeared to contribute to an avalanche that killed at least eight people in Phu village in neighboring Manang district. The dead included one Indian and four Canadian trekkers as well as three villagers, said government official Devendra Lamichane.

The foreigners' bodies were buried in up to 2 meters (6½ feet) of snow and digging them out will take days, he said. Three Canadian trekkers who survived the avalanche were taken by helicopter to a shelter in a nearby village. No information was immediately available on their condition.

Authorities said five climbers were killed in a separate avalanche about 75 kilometers (45 miles) to the west, at the base camp for Mount Dhaulagiri. The climbers, two Slovaks and three Nepali guides, were preparing to scale the 8,167-meter (26,800-foot) peak, the world's seventh tallest, said Gyanedra Shrestha of Nepal's mountaineering department. Their bodies were recovered Thursday.

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 in the Himalayas.

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