Quebec hiker Sonia Lévêque considers herself lucky to be alive after an avalanche in Nepal’s Himalayas buried part of her group.
The Montreal resident and her husband travelled to Nepal on an organized climbing tour and were climbing on the Annapurna mountains near Phu when a massive avalanche rolled down.
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Her eyewitness account of the avalanche is harrowing. She shared it with CBC Radio-Canada on Thursday morning.
“It was a nightmare, the day of the avalanche. It happened extremely fast. In just a few seconds we were separated. Three people from our group were swept up by the avalanche,” Lévêque said.
She said the group had just seen a couple of minor avalanches nearby while climbing at an altitude of around 4,000 metres, but didn’t think they were anything serious.
And then the big one hit.
Dutch trekkers saved group
She said she and her partner were spared after only being dragged 10 feet or so by the avalanche, burying them up to their waists in snow.
She said the members of her group that were in front of and behind her on the narrow trail were buried by at least 20 metres of snow.
'All the members of the group… Nobody wanted to die. We all fought to survive.' - Sonia Lévêque, hiker
Lévêque feared for her life. She said three members of her group including their Quebec guide were swept up by the avalanche and have not yet been found.
The local guide, Lévêque, her husband and possibly other hikers managed to free themselves and walk back. They found a cabin about an hour into the walk.
"We fought to survive, and we were lucky," Lévêque recounted.
"All the members of the group… Nobody wanted to die. We all fought to survive. We were lucky on top of that, and doubly lucky that when we arrived at the cabin, there was a group of Dutch hikers who, because of the snow, chose not to continue their journey — to stay a day longer at the cabin.
"So when we arrived at the cabin, it was our second chance. They lent us clothes, we warmed up, they gave us soup, they really comforted us, reassured us. They took care of us," Lévêque said.
Their local guide called for help before returning to the site of the avalanche to take photos so that search crews could better situate where survivors may be.
She and the rest of the survivors were helicoptered back to Kathmandu the next day.
Geneviève Adam still missing
The family of missing trekker Geneviève Adam is anguished by the wait for news of their loved one.
The 33-year-old Quebec City-area nurse was among a group of hikers believed to be buried by the avalanche.
Uncle François Adam said Geneviève always dreamed of travelling to Nepal to undertake mountain-climbing adventures. In 2013, she climbed Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania.
“I spoke with my brother [Geneviève’s father] yesterday and it doesn’t seem as though there’s much of a chance,” Adam said, adding that he believes she was buried by the snow.
Her father flew to Nepal on Thursday.
It is not yet clear whether Lévêque and Geneviève Adam were part of the same hiking group.
More Quebecers could be dead
The death toll from the avalanches and blizzards that covered a popular mountain trail in central Nepal rose to 27 on Thursday after search and rescue teams spotted the bodies of eight more trekkers, officials said. They expect the death toll will rise.
Montreal-based tour company Terra Ultima said three members of its group of six are missing.
On Thursday the company issued a news release:
"Our work is currently focused on the coordination and monitoring of rescue efforts and the provision of support to families of missing persons and to rescued hikers returning to Kathmandu. A Quebec representative of our agency is on the scene today and a representative of the Canadian government is providing support to these travellers," it read.
"Terra Ultima is in constant contact with local teams that collaborate in the search for and rescue of victims of the avalanche, by helicopter and ground crews. No effort is being spared to find hikers. Our thoughts, of course, are with the families and relatives of missing persons who are going through an extremely difficult period."