World Expeditions was fast off the mark yesterday to reassure the public that all its clients were safe after a devastating earthquake tore through large parts of Nepal, killing at least 2500 people, including tourists, and stranding hundreds of people at Everest base camp.
Peregrine Adventures clients are also all safe, as are the clients of Intrepid Travel, but scores of Australians are missing in Nepal and at least one has been confirmed dead, as of Monday morning.
The 7.9 magnitude quake struck about noon on Saturday at the peak of Nepal’s trekking and climbing season. An estimated 300,000 foreign tourists are currently in the country. The quake has been followed by a series of major aftershocks.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported yesterday that the international airport at Kathmandu was open “but flight schedules have been disrupted by the earthquake”.
“Australians seeking to depart Nepal should contact their airline for latest information on flight schedules.”
World Expeditions said this morning it had been advised that the domestic airport in Kathmandu had not been operating.
“This is because many pilots and airport staff are assisting their family members who have needed assistance. The international airport remains open and we know that at least one commercial flight today arrived and departed Kathmandu, with some of our travellers on board.”
On its website and Facebook page yesterday, World posted: “Thankfully all World Expeditions clients are safe and accounted for after Saturday’s 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck an area between Kathmandu and Pokhara, resulting in widespread damage and significant loss of life.
“Our thoughts are with all those affected and with the people of Nepal, whom we will continue to support, at this difficult time.
“Any relevant updates will be posted to our travel advisory page – http://goo.gl/rEoJBL”
World Expeditions offers treks and adventures around the world but is synonymous with the Himalaya region, having started out as Australian Himalayan Expeditions many years ago.
A Peregrine statement said: “Peregrine can confirm that we have been in contact with all trips currently operating in Nepal and the affected area, and those travellers and leaders are all safe and accounted for.”
“Aftershocks continue to occur, and communications is limited in the region.
“Peregrine’s priority now is to make onward arrangements for our travellers on the ground, and to establish contact with any of our travellers who we believe may be in the region before or after a scheduled trip. We are working closely with our local operations team to do all possible to that end.
“Kathmandu Airport is reported to be closed and will remain closed for the short term. We advise travellers not to board flights bound for Kathmandu at this point in time.
“We will provide further updates on travel in the area as we receive updated information. Our sales team will be in contact with all travellers about the status of future trips as the situation becomes clearer. Concerned relatives and friends can contact our emergency line on +61 406 382 597.”
Intrepid Travel has confirmed that travellers on all its trips that were operating in Nepal and the affected area when the earthquake hit have been accounted for, and that they are safe and well.
Intrepid said its local team in Kathmandu “has been working hard to ensure the ongoing safety and comfort of those travellers, and make onward arrangements for their travel as soon as we are able to do so”.
Intrepid Travel has launched an appeal to support families in the Kathmandu Valley through The Intrepid Foundation.
“We’ll be matching all donations dollar-for-dollar, so please donate whatever you can,” the company said.
The massive earthquake, which triggered a series of deadly avalanches around Everest base camp, is also reported to have killed many people in neighbouring India and China.
Among tourists who died n the earthquake was senior Google executive, Dan Fredinburg. He was in Nepal climbing Mount Everest with three other Google employees (all of whom survived).
Fredinburg was described as an experienced climber who co-founded, in his spare time, Google Adventure, a project that planned to extend Google Street View into exotic adventure-tour locations.
Google is committing USD 1 million to the Nepal earthquake response. It has also launched a “person finder” tool to help locate survivors.
Fears are held for five Australians listed as missing in Nepal, including Perth woman, Ballantyne Forder, who was volunteering at a local orphanage, a 59-year-old woman and an 18-year-old man, both from Melbourne.
Two other Australians – a 20-year-old man from Adelaide man and a 43-year-old man (home state unknown) were also reported yesterday to be missing. This morning Zachary Sheridan, the younger brother of Packed to the Rafters star Hugh Sheridan, was also reported to be missing. He last contacted his family on 22 April near Mount Everest.
Officials said 10 people were killed when the quake triggered an avalanche that buried parts of Mount Everest’s base camp.
Kathmandu was severely damaged and the historic nine-storey Dharahara tower, a major tourist attraction, collapsed, with least 12 people killed inside it, reports stated. Apartment buildings and temples collapsed too.
Many people are still trapped in rubble in Kathmandu and rescue teams are digging frantically, sometimes with their bare hands, to rescue as many as possible.
Anyone unable to contact a relative or friend in Nepal and who has concerns about them can call the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s 24-hour consular emergency line on 1300 555 135 within Australia or +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas.
Written by Peter Needham