KATHMANDU - Nepalese teams Sunday rescued 34 more trekkers and guides stranded in the Himalayas since a snowstorm struck five days ago at the height of the hiking season but also found 12 more bodies, officials said.

Rescuers using helicopters found the bodies buried in the highly popular Annapurna Circuit trekking route hit by the storm, with the total number of those confirmed or feared dead put at 40. “Four helicopters were sent out today to the affected areas in Mustang, Manang and Dolpa. We have rescued 34 since morning,” said police official Pradeep Bhattarai.

They include 17 Nepalese, 10 Germans, five Swedes and two Australians, Bhattarai told AFP, without giving details of their injuries or condition. Rescuers pressed on with their search for bodies that they have seen from the air but have so far been unable to retrieve, said the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal, an industry group. Three bodies were found early Sunday and another nine - all Nepalese support staff for trekkers - late in the day on different sections of the circuit, the association’s Ramesh Dhamala told AFP. Searchers were taking advantage of good weather but efforts were being hampered by the fact that snow was turning to ice, making it difficult to free trapped bodies.

“We are scanning areas at higher altitude today, coordinating with local officials to identify areas where remaining trekkers might be found,” said Dhamala. Searches would resume on Monday to retrieve more bodies along with any more survivors, he said. Nepal has pledged to set up a weather warning system after the snowstorm caught trekkers unaware as they heading to an exposed high mountain pass on the circuit.

Police have said 483 trekkers, guides and others have been rescued since operations started on Wednesday, including 292 foreigners. Thousands of people head to the Annapurna region every October, when the weather is usually clear and cool. Search efforts were initially focused Sunday on an area of the circuit in Manang where two bodies were found and where more were feared buried, another association official told AFP.

“A team of experts dug through snow to recover bodies of two Indians at Nar-Phu area,” said the association’s Machendra Acharya. A third body was discovered in Letdar, higher up the circuit at 4,200 metres (13,779 feet). The identity of the man, dressed in monk’s clothing, was unknown, he said. The nine bodies of the Nepalese were pulled from Sangda-La pass, higher still at 5,490 metres. Three Swiss and four Nepalese were rescued alive from the same area on Friday.

There have differing accounts of the total number of dead. But according to the trekking association a total of 40 people have died. This figure is based on the many bodies that have been recovered, plus other corpses seen from the air or described in eyewitness accounts by survivors.

The dead include at least 26 hikers, guides and porters on the circuit, three yak herders, and five people who were climbing a nearby mountain.

The disaster follows Mount Everest’s deadliest avalanche that killed 16 guides in April on the world’s highest peak and forced an unprecedented shutdown of it.  Impoverished and landlocked Nepal relies heavily on tourism revenues from climbing and trekking.