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KATHMANDU (Reuters) - About 2,000 foreign hikers have been trapped in bad weather on the slopes of a mountain near Mount Everest in a remote corner of Nepal for the past four days, officials said on Friday.
They have been forced to stay in the small hill resort of Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest, which has been covered by thick clouds this week, forcing airlines to cancel flights to and from the remote region.
Lukla, which lies at a height of 2,800 metres (9,186 feet), is located 125 km (78 miles) northeast of the Nepali capital.
Tens of thousands of trekkers and climbers visit the Solukhumbu region in northeast Nepal, home to Mount Everest, every year. Many start and end their trek from the windswept resort where a small airstrip is carved into the rugged mountainside.
Utsav Raj Kharel, chief of Lukla's Tenzing Hillary Airport, said tourists, who were not in physical danger, had been waiting for their flights back to Kathmandu for the past four days.
"Visibility is almost nil. Fog and clouds have covered the entire area making flights by fixed-wing small aircraft impossible," Kharel told Reuters by phone.
Weather officials in Kathmandu said the clouds could continue to cover the region for a couple of days, worsening the plight of the trapped tourists who could face a food shortage.
"Though a few small private helicopters had picked some tourists from nearby Sirke village, they are inadequate to clear the rush," Kharel said.
Santa Subba, chief of the Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal, said authorities were expected to make arrangements to rescue the trapped hikers in big helicopters once the weather conditions allowed them to reach the area.
Autumn, which runs from September to November, is peak tourist season in South Asia's poorest but scenic country, which gets nearly four percent of its gross domestic product from tourism.
Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Sugita Katyal