Evacuation begins of more than 2,500 people stranded near Mount Everest

LUKLA, NEPAL (BNO NEWS) -- Efforts have begun to airlift more than 2,500 people, most of them tourists, from a small airport in eastern Nepal where they have been stranded for days with all commercial flights grounded due to bad weather, local media reported on Saturday.

The problems began on Monday when heavy fog forced airport officials to close down Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, a small town in the Khumbu region of eastern Nepal where most people visiting Mount Everest start and end their journey. It is located about 2,860 meters (9,380 feet) high.

On Friday, helicopters of commercial airliners airlifted some 100 people from a landing strip located a 1.5 hour trek downhill from Lukla. Meanwhile, a Nepal Army (NA) helicopter began to rescue stranded tourists from Lukla airport itself, Republica reported on its website.

The Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) said that by Friday, there were more than 2,000 foreigners and 500 Nepalis stranded in the village of Lukla. They have been stranded since late October when only limited flights were being operated due to bad weather, and no flight has been carried out since Monday.

HRA's Bikram Neupane, who is coordinating the committee formed for rescue operation, said it would take at least several days to rescue all the stranded people if the NA chopper continues to operate. He said the number of tourists was increasing by 500 to 700 daily as tourists who were on trekking trails are returning, Republica said.

Shyam Thapa, chief of Himalayan Expedition in Lukla, said the increasing number of tourists is making it very difficult for tourism entrepreneurs to accommodate them. "There is shortage of bread, cheese, meat and vegetable," he said, adding that all hotels in the town are already full.

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