Scores dead in heavy snowfall in Afghanistan, Pakistan

Houses collapse and roads close as massive avalanches hit eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan.

    Scores of people have been killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by heavy snow and avalanches that hit mountainous areas in the region, officials said.

    More than 100 people have been killed across Afghanistan, including 50 in Nuristan province, officials said Sunday, warning the death toll could rise still further.

    At least 54 people were killed in northern and central Afghan provinces, officials told AFP news agency, with massive avalanches destroying 168 houses and killing hundreds of cattle.

    Afghan tea vendor Imran, 15, prepares tea for customers on a hillside during snowfall near Qargha Lake on the outskirts of Kabul [AFP]

    Dozens more remain missing, the provincial governor, Hafiz Abdul Qayum, told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

    "Most affected are women and children," he said, adding that many houses collapsed, killing at least five people and leaving many families without shelter.

    "The area is completely blocked because of snow so it is very difficult for us to send support, but we are trying our best."

    Qayum said local rescue operations continued at the site, adding the death toll might increase.

    Afghan shopkeepers shovel snow from the roof of their shop during snowfall in Kabul [AFP]

    The government declared Sunday, a normal working day in Afghanistan, to be a public holiday to deter non-essential travel and ensure schools were closed.

    Avalanches in Pakistan's Chitral

    In neighbouring Pakistan, at least 13 people, including three children, were killed early on Sunday morning when an avalanche in the northwestern Chitral district destroyed 22 houses, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said in a statement.

    "Rescue operations at the site have finished for now," Gul Hammad Farooqi, a local journalist in Chitral, told Al Jazeera. 

    "They were carried out by the local population, because no one was able to reach the site, even by helicopter."

    Avalanches and freezing weather have killed more than 20 people in different areas of Afghanistan, as rescuers worked to save scores still trapped under the snow [AFP]

    Roads to the remote Shershal village, where the avalanche occurred, remained blocked due to the snowfall, and rescue crews were forced to rush to the surrounding areas by helicopter, the NDMA said.

    In a separate incident in the Chitral region, a paramilitary soldier was killed and six others were injured when their post collapsed under an avalanche in the Pisotan area, Pakistan's military said in a statement.

    The surviving soldiers had been rescued, it added.

    Parts of the Chitral valley received more than five feet of snow in the previous 24 hours, the Pakistan Meteorological Department said in a statement on Sunday, with scattered snowfall forecast for Monday.

    Transport networks affected

    The snow also wreaked havoc on major roads in Afghanistan, including the main Kabul-Kandahar highway, where police and soldiers rescued passengers in about 250 vehicles trapped by the storm, said Jawed Salangi, a spokesman for Ghazni province.

    The Salang pass, north of Kabul, was also closed under as much as two and a half metres of snow, officials said.

    In Pakistan, all inter-district roads in Chitral were closed, while a major highway linking Chitral to the Dir district and another linking parts of the upper Swat valley were only open to traffic under restrictions, NDMA said.

    With additional reporting by Al Jazeera's Asad Hashim in Islamabad.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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