Dozens Lost After 'Snow Tsunami'

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Soldiers who made it out of a blizzard alive said they had to leave behind comrades who had collapsed from exhaustion and cold.

By Saturday morning, 14 bodies had been recovered and brought to this city, leaving 31 still missing and the possibilities of finding them alive are considered slim, army chief Gen. Emilio Cheyre said. Only 10 bodies had been identified.

"Hope is the last thing we should lose, but the information I have makes me think we are resuming the search for 31 men who are dead," Cheyre said as he prepared to depart in the resumption of the search.

The search resumed early Saturday under better weather conditions which allowed helicopters to be used.

The soldiers were on a training march in the Andes on Wednesday when they were hit by the worst snowstorm in the area in decades.

The weather cleared enough Friday for rescue patrols to search for the missing, but not for helicopters to join them.

President Ricardo Lagos later announced that the patrols were returning with 13 bodies. He said it was not clear if they included four who had already been confirmed dead.

"We are all sad for those Chilean young men who died in the mountain," Lagos said, and declared three days of mourning.

Gen. Cheyre joined the search of the Los Barros region but emerged from the mountains late Friday to announce that the missing soldiers were probably dead. He called the storm a "snow tsunami."

Much of the area, near the dormant Antuco Volcano about 310 miles, was under 6 feet of snow.

"But we will continue to work hard to bring them, dead or alive, to us and to their families," he said.

Cheyre removed the top three commanders of the soldiers' regiment from their posts and ordered an investigation into their actions.

"The march should not have been started, never, under those weather conditions. It was the worst snowstorm in 30 years. And if it was started, it should have been suspended," he said. "Those were officers specialized in mountaineering, and they should have known better."

Army Pvt. Juan Millar, 18, said it was snowing so hard he could not see. Just when he felt he could go no farther, his lieutenant ordered the unit to drop their 100-pound backpacks.