Survivors recall chaos, fear Everest avalanche

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Survivors recall chaos, fear Everest avalanche
Nepalese rescue team members rescue a survivor of an avalanche on Mount Everest on April 18, 2014. At least 12 Nepalese guides preparing routes up Mount Everest for commercial climbers were killed by an avalanche in the most deadly mountaineering accident ever on the world's highest peak, officials and rescuers say. The men were among a large party of Sherpas carrying tents, food and ropes who headed out in bright sunshine in an early morning expedition ahead of the main climbing season starting later this month. AFP PHOTO/Buddhabir RAI (Photo credit should read Buddhabir RAI/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this May 18, 2013 file photo released by mountain guide Adrian Ballinger of Alpenglow Expeditions, climbers make their way to the summit of Mount Everest, in the Khumbu region of the Nepal Himalayas. An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, April 18, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving three missing in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak. (AP Photo/Alpenglow Expeditions, Adrian Ballinger, File) MANDATORY CREDIT, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
FILE - In this May 22 2013 file photo, climbers descend Khumbu Icefall on their way back to Base Camo after summitting the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) Mount Everest. With its dreams of covering a daredevil's attempt to jump off Mount Everest over, the Discovery network is instead making a documentary on the avalanche, Friday, 18, 2014, that killed more than a dozen mountain guides. Discovery President Eileen O'Neill said Tuesday, April 22, the network hopes to air the film within the next few weeks. Discovery will encourage viewers to donate to a relief fund for families of the Sherpa guides killed in the disaster. Several of the Sherpas killed were helping prepare for American Joby Ogwyn's planned jump from the summit in a wingsuit. Discovery planned to show the stunt on live television May 11.(AP Photo/ Pasang Geljen Sherpa, FIle)
FILE - In this Saturday May 17, 2003 file photo, a view of the Kumbhu icefall, the first hurdle in the ascent to Everest from base camp, is seen from Everest Base camp, where 12 Nepalese guides were killed, Nepal. An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving three missing in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak. (AP Photo/Gurinder Osan, file)
FILE - in this May 18, 2013 file photo released by mountain guide Adrian Ballinger of Alpenglow Expeditions, a climber pauses on the way to the summit of Mount Everest, in the Khumbu region of the Nepal Himalayas. An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, April 18, 2014, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving three missing in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak. (AP Photo/Alpenglow Expeditions, Adrian Ballinger, File)
Mother of Nepalese mountaineer Ang Kaji Sherpa, killed in an avalanche on Mount Everest, cries while she waits for his body at Sherpa Monastery in Katmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 19, 2014. Rescuers were searching through piles of snow and ice on the slopes of Mount Everest on Saturday for four Sherpa guides who were buried by an avalanche that killed 12 other Nepalese guides in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak. The Sherpa people are one of the main ethnic groups in Nepal's alpine region, and many make their living as climbing guides on Everest and other Himalayan peaks. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)
Father and sons of Nepalese mountaineer Ang Kaji Sherpa, killed in an avalanche on Mount Everest, wait for his body to arrive at Sherpa Monastery in Katmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 19, 2014. Rescuers were searching through piles of snow and ice on the slopes of Mount Everest on Saturday for four Sherpa guides who were buried by an avalanche that killed 12 other Nepalese guides in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak. The Sherpa people are one of the main ethnic groups in Nepal's alpine region, and many make their living as climbing guides on Everest and other Himalayan peaks. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)
A Nepalese Sherpa Dawa Tashi, who was injured during an avalanche, gets treatment at a hospital in Katmandu, Nepal, Friday, April 18, 2014. An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving three missing in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)
A group of tourists dig their way through heavy snow above 16,000 feet in the Himalayan mountains near Mount Everest Nov. 11, 1995. The early snowfall triggered avalanches and landslides that killed 61 people and trapped throusands of trekkers for days. (AP Photo/Stacy Standley)
Hospital staff get ready to receive the injured from an avalanche, on helipad of Grandy hospital, in Katmandu, Nepal, Friday, April 18, 2014. An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving three missing in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)
Relatives of Mount Everest avalanche victims wait for the mortal remains of their loved ones to arrive at the Sherpa Monastery in Kathmandu on April 19, 2014. Rescuers on Mount Everest April 19 found the body of a 13th Nepalese guide buried under snow as authorities ruled out hope of finding any more survivors from the deadliest accident ever on the world's highest peak. AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of a Mount Everest avalanche victim grieve as bodies arrive at the Sherpa Monastery in Kathmandu on April 19, 2014. Rescuers on Mount Everest April 19 found the body of a 13th Nepalese guide buried under snow as authorities ruled out hope of finding any more survivors from the deadliest accident ever on the world's highest peak. AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of Mount Everest avalanche victims give their last respects after the bodies arrived at the Sherpa Monastery in Kathmandu on April 19, 2014. Rescuers on Mount Everest April 19 found the body of a 13th Nepalese guide buried under snow as authorities ruled out hope of finding any more survivors from the deadliest accident ever on the world's highest peak. AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of Mount Everest avalanche victims give their last respects after the bodies arrived at the Sherpa Monastery in Kathmandu on April 19, 2014. Rescuers on Mount Everest April 19 found the body of a 13th Nepalese guide buried under snow as authorities ruled out hope of finding any more survivors from the deadliest accident ever on the world's highest peak. AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)
The daughter (L) and son of Mount Everest avalanche victim Ang Kazi Sherpa comfort each other as they wait for his body to arrive at Sherpa Monastery in Kathmandu on April 19, 2014. Rescuers searched Mount Everest for bodies as authorities ruled out hope of finding any more survivors from an avalanche that killed at least 12 Nepalese guides in the deadliest accident ever on the world's highest peak. AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)
Nepalese relatives and volunteers shift the body of a Mount Everest avalanche victim after arrival at the Sherpa Monastery in Kathmandu on April 19, 2014. Rescuers on Mount Everest April 19 found the body of a 13th Nepalese guide buried under snow as authorities ruled out hope of finding any more survivors from the deadliest accident ever on the world's highest peak. AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of a Mount Everest avalanche victim grieve as bodies arrive at the Sherpa Monastery in Kathmandu on April 19, 2014. Rescuers on Mount Everest April 19 found the body of a 13th Nepalese guide buried under snow as authorities ruled out hope of finding any more survivors from the deadliest accident ever on the world's highest peak. AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)
A photograph of Mount Everest avalanche victim Ang Kazi Sherpa is pictured as his children look through photographs on his recovered mobile phone at the Sherpa Monastery in Kathmandu on April 19, 2014. Rescuers on Mount Everest April 19 found the body of a 13th Nepalese guide buried under snow as authorities ruled out hope of finding any more survivors from the deadliest accident ever on the world's highest peak. AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)
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KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) - Survivors of Mount Everest's deadliest avalanche recalled scenes of panic and chaos, describing Sunday how they dug through snow with their hands and ice axes in hopes of finding their friends alive.

Just minutes before the avalanche hit on Friday, about 60 Sherpa guides had been backed up along the dangerous Khumbu Icefall - the edge of a slow-moving glacier known to calve and crack without warning. They heard the sickening boom of ice breaking above, and then the roar of it coming down around them.

As details of the tragedy trickle down the mountain, Nepal's tight-knit climbing community has been left reeling and struggling to make sense of an accident that they say could have happened to any one of them, at any time.

"We were sweating, panting, digging for our friends," survivor Cheddar Sherpa said, standing beside his friend's body at the Sherpa monastery in Katmandu, Nepal's capital.

As he helped carry down the injured, he had no idea who might still be alive. "We were terrified," he said.

At least 13 people were killed, and another three are still missing, though there is almost no hope of finding them alive.

Climbing has been halted amid a search operation to locate bodies buried under snow, but the operation was suspended Sunday afternoon due to bad weather, and it was unclear whether it would resume on Monday, Tourism Ministry official Mohan Sapkota said.

The expeditions ferrying foreigners to Everest's peak said they would continue the climbs, though they're not sure when - or how, with some guides now injured or gone.

All of the victims were from Nepal's ethnic Sherpa community, which relies heavily on the country's alpine trekking and climbing industry, with many making a living as climbing guides and others catering to foreign visitors by providing restaurants, equipment or transportation.

At the time of the avalanche, according to Cheddar Sherpa, dozens of Sherpa climbers were carrying tents and equipment to higher elevations in preparation for their foreign clients to ascend next month, when weather conditions are best.

They got caught in a traffic jam behind several Sherpas struggling to fix one of the aluminum ladders laid over the crevasses that cut through the Icefall.

Meanwhile, several other Sherpas, who had already passed before the avalanche hit, remain stranded above the collapsed Icefall, waiting until a new trail can be dug and new ropes fixed, said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

It was unclear how long that would take, but Tshering said the group had tents and enough food to last for days.

Hospitals in Katmandu were treating four survivors of the avalanche for broken bones, punctured lungs and other injuries.

While there were hundreds of climbers, guides and support crews at Everest's base camp preparing to climb the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak, few had been around the Khumbu Icefall on Friday, according to American climber Jon Reiter, who spoke with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (http://bit.ly/1hcOA0R) by satellite phone from the base camp.

He and an Australian had been climbing in the area when their Sherpa guide shoved them back from the avalanche, and out of harm's way.

"We were moving up to Camp 1, just after dawn, when we heard that 'crack,'" said Reiter, 49, a contractor from Kenwood, California. "My first thought was to film it, and I reached for my camera. But the Sherpa yelled to get down. Things started happening in slow motion. Big blocks of snow and ice started coming down all around."

It's not clear how close Reiter was to the avalanche. But in response to questions, he wrote on his blog: "There were very few Western climbers in the area, and all of us had our climbing Sherpa by our sides and they all survived."

The worst recorded disaster on Everest had been a fierce blizzard on May 11, 1996, that caused the deaths of eight climbers, including famed mountaineer Rob Hall, and was later memorialized in a book, "Into Thin Air," by Jon Krakauer. Six Nepalese guides were killed in an avalanche in 1970.

Hundreds of people, both foreigners and Sherpas, have died trying to reach the world's highest peak. About a quarter of them were killed in avalanches, climbing officials say.

More than 4,000 climbers have reached the top of Everest since 1953, when the mountain was first conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.

Nepal this year began stationing officials and medical personnel at Everest's base camp, located at 5,300 meters (17,380 feet), to better monitor the flow of climbers and speed up rescue operations during the March-May climbing season.

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