Pakistan rescuers search for survivors as avalanche toll rises

Landslides and avalanches bury hundreds of homes in Himalayan region of Neelam Valley as 77 people die.

Military helicopters flew rescue missions for a fourth day running in an avalanche-hit area of Pakistan-administered Kashmir as the death toll from the disaster rose to 77, officials said.

Khursheed Mir, a disaster management official in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, told Al Jazeera that relief and rescue operations were continuing in the Himalayan region of Neelum Valley on Friday.

More than 100 people have died after avalanches and landslides hit Neelam Valley in the Himalayan region, also claimed by India, and Balochistan province as the South Asian nation witnessed its worst winter in decades.

The latest victim of the avalanches in Neelum Valley was a six-year-old girl, Safia, who died in hospital on Thursday.

The child had been pulled out alive on Tuesday after being buried for close to 20 hours, a doctor, quoting Safia’s family, said. 

“She had suffered fractures in her skull and orbital bones and left leg and despite our best efforts died of her brain injuries,” the doctor, Adnan Mehraj, told Reuters news agency.

Safia’s family were elated when she was found alive, her uncle, Naseer Ahmed, told Reuters, but now relatives were in shock. Safia was the 19th member of the family to perish in Neelam Valley.

“I am not in my senses … We have lost almost everyone in the family – from young kids to elderly members,” said a visibly disturbed Ahmed.

A helicopter transporting injured takes off, after a heavy snowfall and avalanches in Neelum Valley [Reuters]

Relief supplies

“This extreme weather has played havoc with the lives of people living in high altitude mountains,” Pakistan-administered Kashmir’s top administrative official, Mathar Niaz Rana, said.

“We are trying our best to alleviate their sufferings,” he told Reuters as two helicopters were being loaded with relief supplies, including food and medicine, in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. 

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Meanwhile, in a separate area in Pakistan, further north, five Pakistan army personnel were killed when an avalanche hit them as they were carrying out rescue efforts, according to a senior official.

The five were from the engineer corps and helping clear roads covered by landslides in an area of Gilgit-Baltistan, a mountainous region that borders China. Avalanches in the area had earlier killed a woman and a child, Farid Ahmed, an official from the local disaster management authority, said. 

At least 104 people have died across Pakistan in snow and landslide-related incidents over the last five days, including 20 deaths in the southwestern province of Balochistan. 

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said 96 people were injured and 236 houses had been damaged.

An injured avalanche victim arrives in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, for treatment [AFP]
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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