Everest Avalanche Death Toll Climbs as Mountaineers Stranded

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Himalayas Avalanches
A cloud of snow and debris triggered by an earthquake flies towards Everest Base Camp, moments ahead of flattening part of the camp in the Himalayas. Photographer: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

At least 19 people including a Google Inc. executive died and more than 60 others were injured after Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest. Scores of climbers are still waiting to be evacuated after fresh aftershocks hampered rescue efforts.

Nineteen bodies have been recovered from the base camp at the Everest, Sitanshu Kar, a spokesman for India’s Defense Ministry said on Twitter. With communication networks badly damaged and access to Everest camps hampered by the avalanches, information was sketchy with the Press Trust of India putting the toll at 22, including five deaths below the base camp.

The injured and survivors are being airlifted to Kathmandu, according to Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. A lot of climbers were still stranded in two camps above the base camp, said Zimba Zangbu Sherpa, who is a former president of the association.

“In my memory this is the worst tragedy at base camp caused by avalanches following an earthquake,” he said.

Daniel Fredinburg, a self-described “adventurer/engineer” with Google’s privacy team, died of a head injury on Mount Everest, his sister wrote on the social media site Instagram. He was traveling with the U.K.-based expedition company Jagged Globe, which said in a statement on its website that Sherpa guides and team members other than Fredinburg were safe, including two with non-life-threatening injuries.

‘Narrow Escape’

Three other company employees in the same group are safe, Lawrence You, Google’s director of privacy, said on Google Plus. “We are working to get them home quickly,” he said.

American trekker David Arvan, another Google employee, said in a WhatsApp message that he had narrowly escaped being buried by a glacier by taking shelter behind a boulder.

He said he had been hearing that the climbing paths above the base camp “were completely wiped out.”

Ankur Bahl, who was at ‘Camp 2’ of the Everest with a team of 11 others when the quake struck, was not reachable on his Satellite phone on Sunday, his brother Anuj said.

The most powerful temblor to hit Nepal in eight decades killed more than 2,200 in the Himalayan nation, and set off strong tremors as far as central India and northern Bangladesh. Across Asia perhaps 100 million people felt the quake, reported the U.S. Geological Survey, which displays more than 30 subsequent tremors in central Nepal. More than 60 people died and several others were injured in India, the National Disaster Response Force said in e-mailed statement on Sunday.

Just Seconds

About 30 mountaineers from the Indian army had been scaling the mountain when the quake struck. The men are safe and are participating in the rescue operations, said the Defense Ministry, as reports pour in of climbers buried under avalanches.

The piles of rock, snow and ice travel at a high speed, often giving climbers mere seconds to release themselves from rope lines and shelter behind boulders or even hide in crevasses.

Those who hid behind rocks or ice banks escaped unharmed while those that took refuge in tents just a few feet away “turned out to be the unlucky ones,” climber Jon Kedrowski wrote on his blog on Sunday.

“Many of the injuries were similar to ones you might see in the Midwest when a tornado hits, with contusions and lacerations from flying debris,” he wrote. “The lucky ones here that are unharmed and have plenty of supplies it is up to us to stay for awhile and lend a hand.”

Climbers’ Mecca

Nepal’s reputation as a climbers’ Mecca lures almost 1 million foreign visitors a year, and according to a report by the World Travel & Tourism Council generated about 4 percent of its gross domestic product in 2013.

About 350 climbers were awaiting their turn at the base camp as bad weather delayed their plans, while many were already on their way up, said Zimba Sherpa.

Last April, an avalanche on Mount Everest claimed the lives of as many as 16 Sherpas.

A blizzard in October triggered an avalanche in the Annapurna mountain range, killing at least 28, among them citizens of Israel, Canada, Vietnam and India.

Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake was centered 77 kilometers (48 miles) northwest of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, and was followed by aftershocks as strong as 6.7 magnitude. It was the country’s most powerful earthquake since 1934.

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