In this Saturday, April 11, 2015 file photo, Sherpa guides and porters stand at Everest Base Camp in Nepal (Photo: AP)
An Indian army mountaineering team found 18 bodies on Mount Everest on Saturday, an army spokesman said, after a huge earthquake in Nepal unleashed an avalanche on the mountain at the start of the main climbing season.
Nepal's Tourism Ministry could only confirm 10 deaths, but spokesman Gyanendra Shrestha said that the death toll could rise, and that the avalanche had buried part of the base camp. He said two tents at the camp had been filled with the injured.
Ministry officials estimated that at least 1,000 climbers, including about 400 foreigners, had been at base camp or on Everest when the earthquake struck.
April is one of the most popular times to scale the 8,850-metre (29,035 foot) peak, the world's highest, before rain and clouds cloak it the end of May. Almost exactly a year ago, an avalanche killed 16 Nepali guides in what had been the single deadliest day on the mountain.
Saturday's 7.9-magnitude quake was the strongest to hit Nepal for 81 years and was known to have killed nearly 900 people in Nepal, many in the Kathmandu Valley, as well as sending tremors through northern India.
Romanian climber Alex Gavan tweeted that there had been a "huge avalanche" on Everest and "many, many" people were up on the mountain. "Running for life from my tent," he said.
Another climber, Daniel Mazur, said the base camp had been "severely damaged", and his team were trapped.
"Please pray for everyone," he tweeted.
Mohan Krishna Sapkota, joint secretary in the Nepalese tourism ministry, said the government was struggling to assess the damage on Everest because of poor phone coverage.
"The trekkers are scattered all around the base camp and some had even trekked further up," Sapkota said. "It is almost impossible to get in touch with anyone."
Choti Sherpa, who works at the Everest Summiteers Association, said she had been unable to call her family and colleagues on the mountain. "Everyone is trying to contact each other, but we can't," she said. "We are all very worried."
Last year's tragedy prompted the Sherpa guides to complain that their safety was being neglected, but there were no immediate recriminations on Saturday.
"This will definitely have some impact on climbing activity, but this is a natural disaster no one can do anything," said Ang Tshering Sherpa, President of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.