A river near one of Nepal's most popular Himalayan resorts killed 13 people and left 17 missing -- including three Russian tourists -- when it burst its banks and swept away a village Saturday.
Most of the dead appeared to be locals, said conservationist Bishnu Paudel, who described how terrified people had fled to the hills to escape the sudden deluge.
Fast-flowing floodwaters from the swollen Seti River smashed into two buildings and a number of shacks in Kharapani village, in the shadow of Mount Annapurna, one of Nepal's most popular tourist destinations.
"There are 13 dead and 17 missing, including three Russian tourists. The missing include two young students who were in a group of 16 on an outing," said Ramindra Chhetri, a spokesman for the Nepalese Army.
"Two army helicopters and a private airliner have been deployed to the area. We have army rescue teams scouring five villages for survivors."
Paudel, of Annapurna Conservation Area Project, who reached the devastated site a few hours after the flood hit, said: "Most of the victims were shopkeepers in Kharapani, on the banks of the Seti River.
"Another village, Machhapuchre, was also affected.
"Two buildings were swept away. Tourists flock to this area because there is a hot-water spring. There hasn't been any rain recently, so we were surprised when the flood occurred at 9:30 am.
"The water has risen so high that it was up to a bridge. I found two truck drivers who had survived by fleeing to a hill nearby."
Three injured people have been taken to hospital in Pokhara, a tourist hub about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of the capital Kathmandu, police said.
"Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has ordered the authorities to conduct the rescue operation without any delay," the premier's spokesman Bishwadeep Pandey said.
"Bhattarai is monitoring the incident and is in touch with the authorities in Pokhara. An army helicopter with experts has also been dispatched as per his request."
River flooding normally occurs later in the year, during the monsoon season, and the cause of the disaster was not immediately clear.
But Pradeep Mool, a glaciologist at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), said a combination of an avalanche and landslide were likely triggers.
"It's possible that those two dammed the river for a few hours or even whole night and it burst later, resulting in the flood."
The Annapurna region attracts thousands of trekkers, both local and foreign, each year.
At 8,091 meters (26,545 feet), Annapurna is one of the world's 14 highest peaks.
It is considered both technically difficult and avalanche-prone and has a much higher death rate among climbers than Everest, the world's highest peak.
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