By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Rescuers in Nepal called off efforts on Monday to find seven people, including four South Korean trekkers, after fresh avalanches hit the Annapurna region where the group went missing last week, an official said.
Three Nepali guides were among the group struck by an avalanche on Friday along the popular trekking route at the base of Mount Annapurna, the world’s 10th highest mountain, at 8,091 meters (26,545 feet).
A military helicopter flew an army search and rescue team and sherpa climbers to the area, but "bad weather, heavy snow and continuous avalanches" prevented them from landing, said Mira Acharya, a tourism department official.
"It is a big disaster and the government is concerned about the safety of tourists," Acharya told Reuters. "Rescuers are on standby for a fresh search."
The search will continue when the weather improves, she added.
About 200 people, including 140 foreign hikers, were evacuated from the area at the weekend, police official Binod Sharma said.
Avalanches and bad weather had also prevented a search on Sunday by seven rescuers from the Trekking Agents’ Association of Nepal, who reached the site at Deurali, about 150 km (90 miles) northwest of the capital, Kathmandu.
A helicopter equipped with a device to track signs of the trekkers in the snow also failed to pinpoint where the group of seven went missing, said Suraj Paudyal, an official of a private rescue company.
In 2018, five South Koreans and four Nepali guides on a Himalayan climbing expedition were flung to their deaths after a huge block of ice crashed over a cliff into a narrow mountain gorge.
The winter trekking season in Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest, is drawing to a close this month. Nepal gets four percent of its GDP from tourism including trekking.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez)