By TIM SULLIVAN and BINAJ GURUBACHARYA
KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — An avalanche triggered by a massive earthquake in Nepal smashed into a base camp at the foothills of Mount Everest on Saturday, killing at least eight climbers and guides, injuring many and leaving an unknown number missing near the mountain’s most dangerous spot, officials said.
The avalanche struck between the Khumbu Icefall, a notoriously treacherous rugged area of collapsed ice and snow, and the base camp where most climbing expeditions are, said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
An official with Nepal’s mountaineering department, Gyanendra Shretha, said the bodies of eight people had been recovered and an unknown number remain missing or injured. Their nationalities were unclear as climbers described chaotic attempts to treat the injured amid fears of more landslides and aftershocks that continue to rattle the region. Chinese media reported a Chinese climber and two Sherpa guides were among the dead.
The world’s highest mountain is scaled by hundreds every year who brave extreme weather, a hostile terrain and unpredictable avalanches, one of which killed 16 Sherpa guides almost exactly a year ago.
“Right now, it is pretty chaotic and we try to help those injured,” Danish climber Carsten Lillelund Pedersen wrote in an email to Danish news agency Ritzau. He said “it is hard to imagine that there are no dead.” He said people suffered head injuries, broken legs and “we have supported one who got hit by a flying stone.”
Norwegian climber Teodor Glomnes Johansen told a newspaper in Norway that they are working on saving lives. He was at the base camp that was partly smashed.
“We carry out severely injured people. This is pretty tough and heavy. We do not know whether there will be more avalanches,” Glomnes Johansen told Norway’s VG newspaper.
“All those who are unharmed organize help with the rescue efforts. Men, women and Sherpas are working side by side. The job right now is to assist the doctors in the camp here.”
Carsten Lillelund Pedersen said that he and a Belgian companion were at the Khumbu Icefall, close to the base camp at an altitude of 5,000 meters (16,500 feet), when the earthquake hit.
“We are starting to receive the injured, the most severe of them with many fractures, he was blown away by the avalanche and broke both legs. For the camps closer to where the avalanche hit, our Sherpas believe that a lot of people may have been buried in their tents,” he wrote on Facebook.
He said that a steady flow of people were fleeing the base camp for more secure areas down the mountain.
Local reports in China said an amateur team encountered an avalanche on the north slope of the mountains at an elevation of more than 7,000 meters (22,965feet) and safely retreated to a camp at a lower elevation.
Thomas Frese Carlsen, a Danish schoolteacher who was in Nepal with 12 students from Denmark, said that rumors of another quake forced many to sleep out in the open.
“We will sleep outside tonight, on the lawn,” he told Denmark’s TV2 channel. He described the quake as “freakin’ wild.”
Climber Robin Trygg told the Swedish news agency TT his Sherpa guides had been in radio contact with other guides on Everest and that they reported an avalanche there hitting as many as 80 people.
“We were sitting in the tent and drinking tea when the earth, all of a sudden, began shaking. We didn’t understand what happened,” he told the news agency by telephone.
Another Swedish climber, Jenny Adhikari, was riding a bus in the town of Melamchi when she said she felt earth moving.
“All the houses around me have tumbled down. I think there are lot of people who have died,” she told he Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. “A huge stone crashed only 20 meters from the bus.”
The magnitude-7.8 quake struck around noon Saturday about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Kathmandu, almost one year after the deadliest avalanche on record hit Everest killing 16 Sherpa guides on April 18, 2014.
The 2014 deaths occurred at the Khumbu Icefall, where the edge of the slow-moving glaciers is known to crack, cave and send huge chunks of ice tumbling without warning.
More than 4,000 climbers have scaled the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit since 1953, when it was first conquered by New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. The numbers have skyrocketed in recent years, with more than 800 climbers during the 2013 spring season.
Following the 2014 disaster, the guides accused Nepal’s government of not doing enough for them despite making millions in permit fees from the Western mountaineers who attempt to scale the Himalayan peaks. The guides protested by refusing to work on the mountain, leading to the cancellation of last year’s climbing season.
Sullivan contributed from New Delhi. Associated Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, Didi Tang in Beijing and Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi contributed to this report.