KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A Nepali police team has pulled out the bodies of about 50 people, including some foreign trekkers, from an avalanche-hit area, officials said on Sunday, as the death toll from last month's devastating earthquake climbed to over 7,000.
None of the bodies have been identified, said Pravin Pokharel, deputy superintendent of police in the northern district of Rasuwa. Pokharel, who led the police team, said the bodies were pulled out on Saturday, a week after the earthquake, and rescuers would return to the remote area on Sunday.
At least 200 other people are still missing in the area, including villagers and trekkers, said Uddhav Bhattarai, the seniormost bureaucrat in the district.
"We had not been able to reach the area earlier because of rains and cloudy weather," he said by telephone.
The government said the death toll from the earthquake has reached 7,040 and the number of injured was 14,123.
U.S. military aircraft and personnel were due to arrive in Nepal on Sunday, a day later than expected, to help ferry relief supplies to stricken areas outside the capital Kathmandu, a U.S. Marines spokeswoman said.
Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy has said the delayed U.S. contingent included at least 100 U.S. soldiers, lifting equipment and six military aircraft, two of them helicopters.
The team arrives as criticism mounted over a pile-up of relief material at Kathmandu airport, the only international gateway to the Himalayan nation, because of customs inspections.
United Nations Resident Representative Jamie McGoldrick said the government must loosen its normal customs restrictions to deal with the increasing flow of relief material pouring in from abroad.
But the government, complaining it has received unneeded supplies such as tuna and mayonnaise, insisted its customs agents had to check all emergency shipments.
"They should not be using peacetime customs methodology," the U.N.'s McGoldrick said. Instead, he argued, all relief material should get a blanket exemption from checks on arrival.
Kennedy also warned against bottlenecks at Kathmandu airport, saying: "What you don't want to do is build up a mountain of supplies" that block space for planes or more supplies.
Nepal lifted import taxes on tarpaulins and tents on Friday but a home ministry spokesman, Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, said all goods coming in from overseas had to be inspected. "This is something we need to do," he said.
Nepali government officials have said efforts to step up the pace of delivery of relief material to remote areas were also frustrated by a shortage of supply trucks and drivers, many of whom had returned to their villages to help their families.
"Our granaries are full and we have ample food stock, but we are not able to transport supplies at a faster pace," said Shrimani Raj Khanal, a manager at the Nepal Food Corp.
Army helicopters have air-dropped instant noodles and biscuits to remote communities but people need rice and other ingredients to cook a proper meal, he said.
MONSOON AND DISEASE
Many Nepalis have been sleeping in the open since the quake, with survivors afraid to return to their homes because of powerful aftershocks. Tents have been pitched in Kathmandu's main sports stadium and on its golf course.
According to the United Nations, 600,000 houses have been destroyed or damaged.
The United Nations said 8 million of Nepal's 28 million people were affected, with at least 2 million needing tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.
The top priorities now are getting aid and shelter to people before the monsoon season starts within weeks and adds to the difficulty in distributing relief supplies, World Food Programme executive director Ertharin Cousin told Reuters.
"Our fear is the monsoon will come early," she said.
Disease is also a worry. "Hospitals are overflowing, water is scarce, bodies are still buried under the rubble and people are still sleeping in the open," Rownak Khan, UNICEF's deputy representative in Nepal, said in a statement.
"This is a perfect breeding ground for diseases."
(Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)