ISLAMABAD: Avalanches, flooding and harsh winter weather has killed more than 110 people across Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent days, officials said yesterday, as authorities struggled to reach people stranded by heavy snowfall. At least 75 people died and 64 were injured across Pakistan, with several still missing, while a further 39 people were killed in Afghanistan, according to officials in both countries. In neighboring India, at least 10 people were killed after several avalanches hit the northern-part of Indian-administered Kashmir.
Forecasts suggest more harsh weather is on the way. Pakistani Kashmir was the worst-hit area, with 55 people killed and 10 others missing, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said in a statement. Two Pakistani officials said many villagers were still stranded by the avalanches in the Neelum valley area following heavy rain that also triggered landslides. Many people were reported missing and feared dead as rescue efforts got under way, one of the officials said.
Meanwhile in western Pakistan, heavy snowfall in southwestern Balochistan destroyed several houses in the mountainous region, killing 17 people. The disaster management authority declared an emergency in seven districts of the mineral-rich province and sought the army’s help for relief and rescue operations.
Key highways connecting Pakistan and Afghanistan were blocked due to heavy snow, forcing officials to suspend transportation of essential goods into Afghanistan. Severe cold and heavy snow led to the death of 39 people in six provinces of Afghanistan in the past two weeks said Tamim Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Natural Disaster Management Authority in Kabul. “We are distributing emergency assistance, including cash to families of the victims,” said Azimi, adding that heavy rain and snow have hampered for rescuers.
The area is one of the world’s most militarily tense frontiers, where the neighboring armies have confronted each other over disputed territory for decades. Kashmir has been divided between Indian and Pakistan since their independence in 1947. In 2012, an avalanche engulfed a Pakistani army battalion headquarters near the Indian border, killing at least 124 soldiers and 11 civilians.
“An avalanche hit their village, 10 people are still missing,” the NDMA said. Frequent avalanches and landslides occur in Kashmir during the winter, often blocking roads and leaving communities isolated. Authorities have shuttered schools, while several highways and roads were closed across the country’s northern mountainous areas, according to officials.
“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. 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, adding that most casualties were caused after roofs collapsed under thick snow. 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 added. 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. – Agencies