'I used my hands as claws to dig out of what could have been my grave'
Mountaineers, guides and porters streamed from Mount Everest base camp in the wake of the deadly earthquake-triggered avalanche that obliterated parts of the rocky village of nylon tents. Some warned that dozens of people may still be missing.
The worst injured were ferried out in helicopters, while those remaining at base camp endured a series of powerful aftershocks, some of which caused smaller but still terrifying avalanches in the surrounding mountains.
The avalanche on Saturday, set off by the massive earthquake that struck Nepal, left at least 18 people dead and dozens more injured. But as the first stunned survivors of the avalanche reached Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, they said dozens of people may still be missing and were almost certainly dead.
"The snow swept away many tents and people," said Gyelu Sherpa, a guide who was among the first group of 15 injured survivors to reach Kathmandu.
None were believed to be facing life-threatening injuries, but many limped to a bus taking them to a nearby hospital, or were partially wrapped in bandages. Bhim Bahadur Khatri, 35, a cook and a Sherpa, was preparing food in a meal tent when the avalanche struck.
"We all rushed out to the open and the next moment a huge wall of snow just piled on me," he said. "I managed to dig out of what could easily have been my grave. I wiggled and used my hands as claws to dig as much as I could. I was suffocating, I could not breathe. But I knew I had to survive."
When he finally dug his way out, gulping in fresh air, he was surrounded by devastation. Part of the base camp village was gone.
"I looked around and saw the tents all torn and crushed. Many people were injured," he said. "I had lived but lost many of my friends."
The magnitude-7.8 quake struck at around noon Saturday - just over a year after the deadliest avalanche on record hit Everest, killing 16 Sherpa guides on April 18, 2014.
Witnesses said the avalanche began on Mount Pumori, a 7,000-meter (22,966-foot)-high mountain just a few kilometres from Everest, gathering strength as it headed toward base camp and the lower reaches of Everest's climbing routes.
Numerous climbers remain on routes above base camp, but teams in contact by satellite telephones said no one was believed to be in danger or running short of supplies.
Azim Afif, the 27-year-old leader of a climbing team from University of Technology Malaysia, estimated that about 80pc of the people at base camp had left by mid-afternoon yesterday.
He said that the critically injured had already been evacuated, and that temporary clinics had been set up for people with lesser injuries. Afif said that the dead were being respectfully wrapped, but that the "priority is for those injured."
James Grieve (52) from Kinross in Fife, Scotland, had become trapped with a party of four others from the UK.
The engineer, who works in Kazakhstan, managed to speak to his partner, Shirley McGhie, (40), in Kinross yesterday to let her know he was safe.
"He said they were in their tents before the avalanche hit. They were warned to put their ice picks in the ground and hold on as tight as they could. He found it difficult to breathe and when it was over they just tried to get some shelter and get some tents erected," she said.