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Second avalanche strikes Indian Kashmir; death toll continues to mount

Second avalanche strikes Indian Kashmir; death toll continues to mount

A fresh avalanche struck Indian Kashmir yesterday as the death toll from massive snowslides that smashed into villages hit 157, with the fate of hundreds of others unknown.
Rescuers raced against time to find avalanche survivors, battling driving winds and poor visibility in the mountainous Himalayan region.
"It's an enormous tragedy. The number of dead may be higher as many areas are still inaccessible. We've mobilized all resources to rescue survivors," senior state government official Nayeem Akhtar told AFP.
Police said a new avalanche yesterday morning struck the Rangamunda area, 80 kilometers south of the summer capital Srinagar, killing three people and leaving six missing.
Officials said a total of 157 people had died in the past four days, 154 of them in weekend avalanches that flattened six villages. "Several hundred people are missing," a police officer told AFP.
The army, backed by police and paramilitary forces and civilian volunteers, struggled to find people buried under snow in six villages flattened by weekend avalanches in the worst winter disaster in nearly a decade.
Some hamlets in the southern region hit by avalanches had still not been reached by rescuers. It was not clear how many people might have been affected in those communities.
"These areas (in the Himalayan foothills) are very far off and it takes eight hours of walking through heavy snow to reach there," a police official told AFP.
A police officer in Srinagar said officials were losing hope for the missing amid sub-zero temperatures. The region has been blanketed by up to five meters of snow since Thursday.
Some searchers who had reached avalanche-hit areas were using tracker dogs to search for life in villages in the southern Anantnag district where houses had been engulfed by snow.
The army planned flights to look for the missing and to assess damage. "If weather permits, we'll drop food in some devastated villages," army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel V.K. Batra said.
The army dug out two civilians overnight from Waltingo, one village devastated by the avalanches.
Kashmir has a massive army presence as the Indian government tries to suppress a bloody 15-year-old revolt against New Delhi's rule.
So far, some 185 people have died in two weeks of bad weather in Kashmir, including 19 soldiers swallowed by avalanches.
The death toll was the worst since 1996 when over 200 people, most of them Hindu devotees, were killed when avalanches swept a pilgrimage route to a shrine high in the Himalayas.
Srinagar, Kashmir's largest city with 725,000 people, was without power for a fifth day. "We're freezing in cold. There's no electricity. We pray this ends soon," said Aisha Begum, 82, huddled under blankets.
The heavy snow cut road and air links to the state, resulting in food shortages in some northern parts. Air force planes were ferrying fuel, vegetables and milk to Srinagar.
Some 1,500 motorists and truckers stranded on a snowbound main highway between Srinagar and the winter capital Jammu were being housed in emergency shelters.
But officials said better weather should allow them to start evacuating them.
Some 300 troops were also sheltering inside Jawahar Tunnel on the main highway after avalanches hit their barracks, police said. Air force helicopters dropped food packets for them Monday.
Troops face weather
Indian soldiers battling a deadly Islamic revolt in Indian Kashmir were facing the harshest winter weather in decades with accumulated snow over 20 meters deep in places, a military commander said.
"On the Line of Control, our soldiers are battling the worst difficulties experienced in the last 43 years," said Major General Raj Mehta, acting Indian army chief in the Kashmir valley.
The 750-kilometer-long Line of Control is a military boundary dividing the Indian and Pakistani zones of the Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
"There are places in the (western) Uri sector where the accumulated snowfall level is touching 21.2 meters," Mehta said, which he described as a 43-year record.
Uri in Indian Kashmir is the sector through which a bus service between the Indian and Pakistani zones will start running April 7 as part of a peace process.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two over Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Bad weather in Kashmir has triggered avalanches that have killed 203 people, including 19 soldiers, over the past two weeks. Some 188 people have died in the last four days.
"Soldiers are fighting a battle of different kind in order to survive," Mehta told reporters at a news conference in Srinagar, summer capital of Indian Kashmir where a bloody revolt has raged against New Delhi's rule since 1989.
Whenever it snows, soldiers along the Line of Control have to clear the top and sides of their bunkers every 30 to 45 minutes, he said.
"Otherwise they'd be buried alive."
The weather is at its worst on the Siachen glacier which at 6,300 meters is the world's highest battlefield and where temperatures are bone-chilling.
Before a ceasefire went into effect along the Line of Control in November 2003, more Indian soldiers died on the glacier of the cold and treacherous terrain than from hostile fire.


Updated : 2021-10-24 14:49 GMT+08:00