Rain and snow grounded relief flights and triggered several landslides in Pakistan's earthquake zone yesterday, cutting off some remote villages and towns, officials said.
On Saturday, the Meteorological Department said moderate and at times heavy snow was expected over the next four to five days and could be expected to disrupt the international relief effort underway since the October 8 quake killed more than 73,000 people.
Helicopters, which had been flying up to 70 sorties a day to highland areas, were grounded yesterday morning due to rain, said Major Farooq Nasir, a spokesman for the army in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir.
The bad weather comes ahead of an expected visit to the quake zone by former U.S. President George W. Bush, who has been appointed the U.N. special envoy for the relief operation, and was due in Islamabad yesterday afternoon.
All U.N. flights were canceled yesterday, said U.N. spokesman Ben Malor. "We are waiting to see if the weather clears tomorrow," he said.
Rain triggered landslides on roads through two quake-affected valleys in Pakistani Kashmir, the Neelum and Jhelum, cutting off several villages and towns, officials said.
"At least three landslides have been reactivated by the rains on (the) Neelum Valley road, halting all movement on it," police officer Zahoor Gillani said.
The Jhelum valley road was closed beyond Chinari, 50 kilometers south of Muzaffarabad, the army's Nasir said. "If the rain continues, more slides are bound to occur," he said.
More than two million people have been camping out in tents or in simple shelters since the quake, but so far the huge relief effort organized by the army and international agencies has averted a feared second wave of deaths.
On Saturday, the United Nations said cold and disease were constant threats, but if donations were sustained, the more than three million survivors should make it through the winter.
U.N. relief officials are particularly concerned about people living at high altitudes, and those in cramped, unorganized tent settlements that have sprung up in valleys across the region.
Good weather in December allowed more aid to be prepositioned in the mountains than expected, but the threat of freezing temperatures and deep snow hangs over the region.
On Saturday, the director of the U.N. Children's Fund in Pakistan, Omar Abdi, said the cold remained a huge danger.
Survivors living in crude tents at a makeshift camp in Muzaffarabad are worried.
"So far, our tent has not leaked but who knows how long it will withstand the weather," said 19-year-old Sehrish Latif.
Aid agencies have provided polythene sheets to help prevent tent leakage, but these cannot withstand snow, which brought down many tents in the last heavy snowfall this month.