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Nepal avalanche hit climbers as they were sleeping

Associated Press Published: September 24, 2012

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Mountaineers who survived a pre-dawn avalanche high on the world's eighth-tallest peak say they waited an hour for the sun to come up and then saw pieces of tents and bodies of victims strewn around them on the snow.

Italian climber Silvio Mondinelli said he and a fellow mountaineer were asleep when they heard a violent sound and felt their tent start to slide.

"It was only a few seconds and we did not know what happened, but we had slid more than 200 meters (650 feet)," Mondinelli told The Associated Press on Monday. "All we wanted was for it to stop."

The avalanche hit at about 4 a.m. Sunday while more than two dozen climbers were sleeping in tents at Camp 3 on Mount Manaslu in northern Nepal.

At least nine climbers were killed and six are believed still missing. Ten climbers survived, but many of them were injured and were flown to hospitals by rescue helicopters.

Helicopters flew over the slopes on Monday to search for the missing mountaineers as climbers and guides searched the mountainsides on foot. Rescuers brought down eight bodies — four French, one each from Germany, Italy and Spain and a Nepali guide — and were trying to retrieve the ninth from the 7,000-meter (22,960-foot) area where the avalanche struck, police Chief Basanta Bahadur Kuwar said.

Three French climbers and two Germans were transported to hospitals in Katmandu on Sunday. Two Italians were flown there on Monday — Mondinelli, who has climbed the world's 14 highest peaks, and fellow mountaineer Christian Gobbi.

Mondinelli said a third Italian climber and their Sherpa guide, who were both sleeping in another tent, were buried by the avalanche and died.

Gobbi said they could not see at first when they looked out of their torn tent because it was pitch dark and they had no light.

"We found someone's boots and put them on," he said.

When the sun rose an hour later, they saw parts of tents scattered across the snow, along with people who had been killed or injured.

They said they were able to assist the injured with the help of Sherpa guides who came up from lower mountain camps. Those who could walk made their way down to the base camp while those who were injured were picked up by helicopters.

At least three of the victims were from the French Alps town of Chamonix, a hub for climbers on Mont Blanc and nearby peaks. An avalanche on a route to the summit of Mont Blanc in July killed nine experienced climbers.

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