January 15, 2020
Avalanches, flooding and harsh winter weather has claimed lives of more than 130 people across Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent days, local officials say.
Search teams found the bodies of 14 people buried by avalanches and heavy snowfall in Pakistani-administered Kashmir Wednesday, with harsh weather hampering rescuers as they race to find any survivors, officials said.
The death toll from days of bad weather now stands at 76 in Kashmir and at least 100 across the country, according to a statement from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Most were killed in Kashmir’s picturesque Neelum Valley, which had been hard hit by avalanches earlier in the week, said operations director of the Kashmiri disaster management authority Saeed ur Rehamn Qureshi.
He said “scores” of houses had been damaged, and put the death toll slightly higher than the national authorities, at 77 dead with 94 wounded.
One Neelum Valley resident, Lal Hussain Minhas, said he had pulled his cousin’s wife from under the snow and debris when her house was hit by an avalanche.
Now, he told AFP by telephone, he and other locals are trying to reach two of her children trapped beneath a collapsed roof.
Some two dozen people were killed in heavy snowfall in other parts of the country, the NDMA said.
Frequent avalanches and landslides occur in Kashmir during winter, often blocking roads and leaving communities isolated.
“The severe snowfalls and landslides in AJK have caused misery & deaths,” tweeted Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, referring to the part of Kashmir controlled by Islamabad.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday visited some of the injured in a hospital in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Authorities have shuttered schools, while several highways and roads were closed across the country’s northern mountainous areas, according to officials.
To the south-west, in Balochistan province, at least 31 people have been killed in separate weather-related incidents.
“Most of those who died were women and children,” said Mohammad Younus, an official with the provincial disaster management authority, adding that hundreds remained stranded.
Forecasts suggest more harsh weather is on the way.
Across the border in Afghanistan, more than 300 houses were either destroyed or partially damaged throughout the country, said Ahmad Tamim Azimi, a spokesman for the natural disaster management authority.
“A cold snap, heavy snowfall and rains that started two weeks ago have caused damage,” he said.
Most casualties were caused after roofs collapsed under thick snow, he added. Hardest hit were southern Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and western Herat provinces.
In Herat, seven people – all members of the same family and including children – died when their roof caved in, Azimi said.
Harsh winters often take a heavy toll in mountainous Afghanistan, and the country remains poor despite billions of dollars in aid from the international community.
Avalanches kill 12 in Indian-controlled Kashmir
In Indian-administered Kashmir, avalanches triggered by heavy snowfall killed at least 12 people, including six soldiers.
Officials said army men and a paramilitary soldier died in two separate avalanches along the highly militarized border dividing the Himalayan territory between India and Pakistan.
“Five army soldiers and a border security force personnel were killed in the snow avalanches on the Line of Control,” Srinagar-based army spokesperson Colonel Rajesh Kalia told AFP.
Separately, a top official from Kashmir’s civil administration said six people were killed after their house came under a massive snow avalanche in the northern part of the valley, which saw heavy snow in recent days.
In India’s adjacent state of Himachal Pradesh, an avalanche buried an elderly person alive, while three others died in landslides, officials cited by the Press Trust of India said.