As many as 125 bodies were retrieved under 30ft deep snow in Wultengo and Nagin Pora, two villages in southern Anantnag district, about 100km from the state's summer capital Srinagar.

"The army, backed by police and paramilitary forces and civilian volunteers, is struggling to find people buried under snow in six villages including Wultengo and Nagin Pora flattened by weekend avalanches," police officials said.

Fresh avalanches struck the region on Tuesday, with the weatherman forecasting more snow in the vale of Kashmir and adjoining areas of the lower Himalayan belt.

 

Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayid, who was in the state's winter capital Jammu, rushed to Srinagar to hold emergency talks with police and military officials to take stock of the situation.

 

Rescue operations and other measures were discussed at the meeting, a ministerial aide said.

 

The official added that the toll might be higher as most areas known to have been hit by snowstorms and avalanches continued to be inaccessible.

 

Some 125 people have died in
villages 100km from Srinagar

"It's an enormous tragedy. The number of dead may be higher as many areas are still inaccessible. We've mobilised all resources to rescue survivors," senior state government official Nayeem Akhtar was quoted as saying.

 

Rescue efforts

 

A military spokesperson in Srinagar said a team of army personnel had managed to reach the area and on arrival found 25 bodies.

 

He added that more than 50 residents were still missing.

In New Delhi, an Indian Air Force spokesman said a massive rescue and relief operation had begun. He said Il-76 aircraft and helicopters were being used to rescue people and to fly in food and essential supplies.

 

The spokesman said 15,000 people had been airlifted to safety.

 

 "All these people are safe and measures will be taken to airlift them," the spokesman said, adding that 300 others were trapped in the Jawahar Tunnel that passes beneath Pirpanjal ridge connecting the vale of Kashmir with the state’s Jammu region and beyond in the south.

 

"Due to heavy snowfall, the surface road and rail links have been blocked. The IAF has therefore established an air bridge between Chandigarh, Jammu, Srinagar, Leh and Thoise," the spokesman said.

 

"It's an enormous tragedy. The number of dead may be higher as many areas are still inaccessible. We’ve mobilised all resources to rescue survivors"

Nayeem Akhtar,
Kashmir government official

The army was making arrangements to airlift a specialist battalion to the affected areas and initiate other necessary measures to help trapped villagers believed to be still alive.

 

Badly disrupted

 

Authorities admitted that since communications have been badly disrupted and most areas remain cut off from respective district headquarters, the full scale of the disaster remains unclear.

 

The Srinagar-Jammu highway - the only road link between the vale of Kashmir and the rest of the world - remained cut off for the eighth consecutive day on Tuesday.

 

Efforts are under way to rescue approximately 4000 passengers stranded at different places along the 294km road.

 

Flights from Srinagar airport have resumed after a gap of six days. Though the runway had been cleared of three to four feet of snow on Monday morning, authorities were still refusing permission for flight operation.