Home Central Asia Stuck in snow: how avalanches overtake drivers in Tajikistan

Stuck in snow: how avalanches overtake drivers in Tajikistan

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Being caught in a powerful snow avalanche on the way in the middle of the mountains is a dangerous situation, but residents of the mountainous regions of Tajikistan risk their lives several times a year while traveling along a dangerous route.

Izzat Latif

Road equipment clears avalanche road, archival photo
Destructive avalanches on roads during spring warming are common in Tajikistan.

DUSHANBE, March 12: Most often, residents of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), who involuntarily become hostages of the disastrous elements, suffer from avalanches on the roads. For example, this story occurred on March 4 with passengers of several cars on the Ishkashim-Dushanbe route. Because of the snowy debris, 50 people spent the whole day in captivity of mountains and snow. Instead of the expected 16 hours on the road, people traveled to the capital for 2.5 days, having reached Dushanbe only on March 6.

Due to the threat of being buried alive by the snow flow, the minibuses were forced to stop 30km from the regional center of Khorog, in the town of Gulbog, before reaching the Andarob and Khashorog jamoats (municipalities). Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Cold, snow and avalanche Pamir

Regular minibuses from Ishkashim towards the capital of Tajikistan leave once a week, on Mondays. Machines are assembled from all jamoats (municipalities) in the centre of the region and travel in a column. According to a driver of a minibus, not only the territory of Ishkashim district is dangerous, but also all roads in GBAO. People behind the wheel are already accustomed to this. 

Road equipment clears avalanche road, archival photo
Due to the large amount of snowfall this year, the GBAO districts were isolated from each other. “Roads are bad, the risk is high, but this is highway is the only thing that connects the villages to the outside world as aircraft do not fly to the Pamirs,” he says.

We have to drive as the people have to go on a business trip, to a hospital; someone has to visit relatives late February and March, he adds.

Unusual travel

According to the driver, on March 4, the minibuses left as usual. The weather was warm. After passing most of the way, the column was forced to stop because of the avalanche that came down 30km from Khorog. It was impossible to move further. The avalanches came down one after the other, and the tractor arrived did not have time to clean the road.

“There was a lot of snow. The tractor cleared the road, but the next avalanche blocked the road again. Well, at least they could be seen, and there are places where the avalanche quietly descends, and it is very dangerous. We stayed in Gulbog for the night. One family from Kukhi Lala sheltered in a two-room house with us which saved us from the cold at night,” said the driver.

As it turned out already in Khorog, the Committee for Emergency Situations asked the population to refrain from traveling between Khorog and Ishkashim. However, the warning of the CSF caught the passengers on their way.

Hospitality rescues people from avalanches

“We drove from the centre of Ishkoshim in a column of six cars, with around 50 passengers on board. Of course, we know our roads, but there was nothing to do, we had to go,” said Rukhshona Sohibnazarova of Wrang village.

snow avalanche
It was impossible to drive along the mountain road, and it was scary, so the cars had to stop. Women and children were accommodated in one of the rooms of a small house where the floor was heated. Fortunately, the house itself was equipped with minimal amenities.

“The hosts were very welcoming, they not only sheltered us, but also gave us food. I cooked pasta, fed all the passengers. In the morning the tractor began to clear the track, and we slowly drove after it. It was scary, everyone prayed in the car. Fortunately, we still crossed a dangerous area,” said Rukhshona.

Snow avalanches in Tajikistan

Every year, Tajikistan faces a serious problem — the descent of avalanches on the mountain roads.

Over the winter over 27 avalanches occurred in Tajikistan, killing about a dozen people.

In the winter of 2016/2017, more than a thousand avalanches were recorded that descended on the country’s highways.–Courtesy: Sputnik

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