On October, 14th 2014 unusually severe snowstorms and avalanches in Central Nepal resulted in one of the worst trekking disasters the country has ever experienced.
The storm arose from Cyclone Hudhud. According to an unnamed expert almost 1.8 metres (5 ft 11 inches) of snow fell in a 12 hour period. The massive snowfall occurred most severely in the Manang and Mustang Districts of Nepal, near the iconic Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains.
The inclement weather resulted in the failure of electric power, cell phone services and internet connections in the region, which in turn hampered rescue efforts.
There were several hundred trekkers from the across the globe in the region at the time, 78 of which were from New Zealand. Most were completing the northerly and highest section of the Annapurna Circuit, near the Thorong-La Pass.
News of the events unfolding in the region first reached the Israeli embassy in Kathmandu, where a local guide had been sent with a handwritten note to seek help. Rescue efforts on the 15th October resulted in 21 trekkers from Nepal, Slovakia and Germany being saved. By the 19th October over 400 people across the region had been rescued.
Unfortunately, at least 43 people perished in the storm, 21 of which were trekkers of various nationalities. One-hundred and seventy-five people were treated for various injuries, including severe frostbite. It is believed that up to 50 people are still missing.
In the aftermath of the disaster the media and critics blamed officials for poor communication and disaster mitigation measures. In particular, the government was criticised for not giving enough early warning of the incoming storm.
In response to the disaster the Tourist Ministry has pledged to improve weather warning communication systems and emergency shelters. New regulations have also been proposed to include a trekker’s registry, GPS tracking and checkpoints, and the mandatory use of trained and licensed guides. These measures however sound very similar to the system that is currently in place.
What is clear from the tragedy though is that many inexperienced trekkers were caught off-guard and were inadequately prepared, guided or equipped.
The tragedy has been closely compared to the trekking disasters of 1995, were 42 people were killed near Mount Everest.