Israeli rescue teams were working to construct a field hospital in Nepal and locate the remaining missing Israelis Tuesday afternoon, as seven stranded hikers were rescued from the Langtang region.
The seven trekkers had not managed to send an emergency signal, and were among 16 Israeli tourists who were unaccounted for.
The Foreign Ministry was working Tuesday evening to locate the nine Israelis who had not yet made contact, according to Channel 2.
Meanwhile, the head of the IDF team on the ground in Nepal updated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Israeli efforts. The premier urged him to focus the rescue efforts on retrieving Israelis trapped in remote areas.
“We landed at dawn here in Kathmandu and immediately unpacked the equipment. As of now we are continuing to get organized, build the field hospital, and see to our other efforts, including the special effort to locate Israelis,” Col. Yoram Laredo reported to the prime minister, according to a statement.
“Every Israeli who comes to us will have his needs taken care of. I would like to emphasize that we are highly motivated and ready for our task here; we hope to save lives and achieve results,” he said.
The field hospital was set to treat the thousands of injured Nepalis hurt in the 7.8 magnitude quake, which claimed the lives of over 5,000 as of Tuesday afternoon. Nepalese officials expected the death toll to climb to as high as 10,000.
Netanyahu told Laredo that the top priority for the Israeli team at the moment was rescuing the Israeli hikers stranded in the Langtang region and in the Everest base camp.
“The most important task at this moment is to rescue the Israelis who are on Mount Everest and to complete the evacuation of the frozen lakes area. I have instructed that the possibility of dropping them equipment, food, clothing and means to keep warm, by plane or helicopter, be considered,” the prime minister said.
Israeli Ambassador to Nepal Yaron Meir told Israel Radio that two helicopters were engaged in a search for over 60 Israeli hikers in the remote Langtang National Park.
Meanwhile, around 250 people were feared missing after an avalanche Tuesday hit an area of Nepal that is on a popular trekking route where Israelis were rescued earlier, a local official said.
“An avalanche occurred in the afternoon today in Ghodatabela, an area on the popular Langtang trekking route,” said chief district officer Uddav Prasad Bhattarai.
“It is difficult to say how many are missing, but a preliminary guess is that about 250 might be missing.”
Bhattarai said foreign tourists may have been among those missing after the avalanche, but details remained scant as the area is remote and communications difficult.
Earlier, some 20 Israelis were rescued by helicopters hired by the Phoenix insurance company from a tourist site near the border with Tibet. A second group of 10 Israeli backpackers was also rescued in the Everest area near the Tibetan border by a rescue team sent by Phoenix, Channel 2 reported. Four Israelis had already been rescued from the slopes of Mount Everest, where they had been trapped in the wake of the earthquake, on Monday.
An El Al plane carrying 216 Israelis from Nepal landed at Ben Gurion Airport early Tuesday afternoon. Among the passengers were 15 surrogate-born children caught up in the quake.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said that additional staff from Israeli embassies in nearby countries would be sent to Kathmandu as soon as conditions permit.
Liberman called his Nepalese counterpart, Bahadur Pandey, on Tuesday and offered his condolences. Pandey thanked Liberman for assistance and said the Nepalese people appreciated the help provided by Israel, the Foreign Ministry said.
Liberman thanked Pandey for the cooperation of Nepalese authorities in making possible the use of helicopters to search for Israeli hikers stranded in remote locations. According to the Foreign Ministry, Pandey gave Liberman permission to use helicopters hired by Israel from India and China to rescue stranded Israelis.
The Foreign Ministry said that some locals were “thronging” the helicopters, “complicating the rescue efforts.”
On Monday evening, an IDF plane carrying Israelis doctors, search and rescue teams and other aid personnel landed in Kathmandu, and the medical team immediately prepared to set up a field hospital in the quake-struck capital. An additional four planes were expected to arrive on Tuesday.
Aboard the flight were some 200 Israeli doctors and emergency specialists. Professor Jonathan Halevy, director of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital, is to head the IDF’s field hospital in Nepal.
Nepal declares 3 days of mourning
Himalayan nation’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala said Tuesday getting help to remote areas was a “major challenge,” as aid finally began reaching areas that had to fend for themselves since Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake.
In a televised address late Tuesday, Koirala declared three days of national mourning for the 5,057 people known to have perished in Nepal alone.
More than 100 people died in neighboring countries such as India and China.
Around 8,000 people had been injured while the United Nations estimated that eight million people had been affected.
Among the dead were 18 climbers who were at Mount Everest base camp when an avalanche triggered by the quake flattened everything in its path. The victims included two American climbers, an Australian and a Chinese.
Countries far and wide have joined the relief effort in what is one of Asia’s poorest countries, with neighboring India playing a leading role.