Cape Town - A mountaineer from Simon’s Town and a doctor were among the South Africans caught up in a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest spurred by an earthquake that rocked Nepal on Saturday, killing more than 1100 people.
This death toll is expected to rise.
The quake, with a magnitude of 7.9, was the worst experienced in 81 years and caused widespread devastation and destruction.
The quake, which was shallow and therefore had a more intense force, sparked an avalanche on Everest, killing at least 10 climbers.
About 300 000 tourists are estimated to be in Nepal for the spring trekking season in the Himalayas and officials were overwhelmed by calls from concerned friends and relatives.
At Everest’s base camp, about 1 000 climbers had gathered at the start of the annual climbing season and The Sunday Independent understands at least six South Africans were on the mountain when the avalanche swept along it, obliterating camps and routes.
While the South Africans were reported to be safe, about 40 other climbers from various countries were reportedly injured and dozens were said to be stuck on the mountain.
Updates on the situation were posted on Twitter on the account @NorthmenPK.
It said some teams of climbers reported they were stuck because of routes being destroyed.
Ronnie Muhl of Simon’s Town, who during a previous climb became the seventh South African to have summited Everest and who runs the company Adventures Global, was on the mountain when the avalanche happened.
He had been climbing with Donna McTaggart, a medical doctor who wanted to summit the mountain for charities, including Cupcakes 4 Kids with Cancer.
Another South African on Everest at the time was Sean Wisedale of Durban, who in 2004 became the first person from the country to summit the highest mountain on each of the seven continents.
Wisedale had been with three other South Africans, Wilmien van der Merwe, Marlette Hegyi and Rob Bentley.
By late Saturday, while no one had managed to reach neither Muhl nor McTaggart directly, it was understood they were safe.
Muhl’s son Justin Muhl, 21, told Independent Newspapers that he had heard from others that his father was OK.
“Obviously we’re relieved,” he said.
A colleague of Muhl’s posted a message on the Adventures Global website saying she had got in touch with the administrators of an Australian climber, who was apparently with Muhl, and it was believed they were safe.
News of the avalanche was also posted on a Facebook page, Donna’s Everest Summit 2015, set up to detail McTaggart’s experience.
A message posted on Saturday said: “We have heard from one of Donna’s teammates and the news is good. They are at base camp and everyone is safe.”
On Friday McTaggart had posted about her expedition, saying it was day 24 and she and a friend were hoping to “see the other South Africans” in Wisedale’s group.
On Wisedale’s Facebook page an acquaintance, or relative, posted she had heard from Wisedale on Saturday morning. “Just to let you know they are all safe as their camp is situated out of the way of the avalanche,” it read.
A tourism official, Mohan Krishna Sapkota, said it was “hard to even assess what the death toll and the extent of damage” around Everest could be.
“The trekkers are scattered around the base camp and some had even trekked further up. It’s almost impossible to get in touch with anyone.”
There were reports that climbers that were stuck would have to wait for rescue helicopters because these were busy in the main towns where the earthquake had caused devastation.
At Kathmandu’s main hospital people formed a human chain to clear the way for ambulances. The historic 19th-century Dharahara Tower, with a viewing balcony that had been open to visitors for the last 10 years, toppled and trapped about 200 people.
The quake’s epicentre, about 80km east of Nepal’s second-largest city of Pokhara, sent tremors through northern India, where 34 people were killed. Another was killed in Bangladesh.
On Saturday, officials, residents and tourists got involved in the rescue. An Indian tourist, Devyani Pant, was helping try pull out people stuck in collapsed buildings.
“We are collecting bodies and rushing the injured to the ambulance. We are being forced to pile several bodies one above the other to fit them in.”
she had been sitting in a Kathmandu coffee shop with friends when “suddenly the tables started trembling and paintings on the wall fell”.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday dispatched a military air transporter with 3 tons of supplies and a 40-strong disaster response team to Nepal. Three more planes were to follow, carrying a mobile hospital and more relief teams.