Over 76 confirmed dead and 94 injured in AJK’s, 31 in Balochistan and 2 in GB
The death toll from snow-related incidents in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir has risen to 76, bringing the total number of casualties from weather-related incidents across the country to over 100.
According to Neelum Valley Deputy Commissioner Raja Shahid Mehmood, the deaths were reported from villages in the mountainous areas of Dhakki and Chaknar located along the Line of Control.
He added that the number of injured persons had also risen to 94.
According to Mr Mahmood, almost 80pc of the casualties had occurred in the hamlets of Bakwali and Seri in Surgan area of tehsil Sharda, upper Neelum.
Further, two more deaths were reported in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) after a two-and-a-half-year-old boy and a girl were killed in an avalanche, said the disaster management authority.
The authority added that three others were also injured after a house collapsed. In addition, at least 80 livestock animals were killed in a similar incident, the authority said.
Officials had said the figure could further go up as some areas in Azad Kashmir were still inaccessible due to heavy snowfall, while weather pundits forecast another spell of snowfall starting on Friday.
Meanwhile, relief and rescue efforts are currently underway in Neelum Valley. On the directives of the prime minister, helicopters distributed rations, blankets, medicines and other supplies to residents of the valley on Wednesday, officials said.
Most of the deaths were confirmed in a remote valley where unprecedented snowfall triggered multiple avalanches continued to sweep through Neelum Valley swallowing hundreds of buildings and killing dozens of residents.
A gigantic mass of snow rolled over a village in the Surgan Bakwali area of Neelum, burying more than two dozen houses under tons of ice. Survivors dug through the snow mass with bare hands, shovels or whatever they could find to retrieve at least 50 bodies.
According to AFP, the State Disaster Management Authority gave a death toll of 62, with another 10 people missing presumed dead. The state-run APP news agency reported on the authority of AJK government sources that 75 people have died in all: 69 in Neelum Valley and one each in Kotli, Rawalakot and Sudhnoti districts.
Casualties are expected to rise once rescuers arrive by helicopter – the only way to reach the remote valley.
DC Mahmood said the ravaged valley is not accessible by road as all land routes are clogged. It’s also perilous to fly helicopters as the snow is too unstable for them to land on.
Abdul Rahman Sheikh, 62, said an avalanche had buried his home and seven others in his village on Monday, according to a New York Times report. He dug through the snow until midnight to rescue his family, recovering his daughter-in-law — who survived with injuries — and the frozen bodies of eight other family members.
He decided to bury the dead first. “I have eight dead bodies lying in the open. If I send her to the hospital, who will look after her there? And if I go along with her, who will bury the eight bodies?” Sheikh asked mournfully.
Schoolteacher Asif Iqbal said he heard a rumble and a crash Monday afternoon and looked outside to see rooftops of nearby houses barely peeking up from the snow.
Mr Shahid said at least 84 houses and 17 shops had been levelled by the avalanches while 94 houses and a mosque were partially damaged. Besides, 19 vehicles, including 10 motorbikes, were also swept away, he added.
Army helicopters are busy in rescue and relief operations in the areas of Sharda, Surgan Bakwali and Taobat, the military’s media wing said.
According to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Army helicopters carrying tents blankets, rations, cooked food and medicine airlifted to provide comfort to stranded population. Army troops, including Frontier Works Organization (FWO) and civil administration, are undertaking joint efforts to provide relief to the affected population.
Meanwhile, blocked KKH at Pattan, Matta Banda, Shatial, Tatta Pani, Hunza, Sost, Morkhoon, Khunjerab and the Jaglot-Skardu Road and Dambudas have been restored.
Similarly, portions of N50 and N25 at Khan Mehtarzai and Lakpass Tunnel in Balochistan have also been cleared. FWO teams have been deployed at bottlenecks astride of Karakoram Highway to ensure smooth and uninterrupted flow of traffic. Relief goods are also being distributed amongst affected families.
Balochistan remained enveloped in a blanket of snow on Tuesday with meteorologists saying freezing cold would further intensify over the next 48 hours. Authorities, meanwhile, scrambled to unclog roadways and reach motorists and travellers stranded out in the open in subzero temperatures.
At least 31 people have been killed in weather-related incidents, an official of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said.
“Most of those who died were women and children,” the PDMA official, Mohammad Younus, said, adding that hundreds remained stranded.
The authority is assessing damages in the province, where it has already declared a state of emergency in seven districts and sought the military’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 the neighbouring country, where severe cold and heavy snow led to the death of 39 people in six provinces in the past two weeks.
Rescue operations carried out by the local administrations, Frontier Corps, Levies and the PDMA were completed in Muslim Bagh and Kan Mehtarzai.
More than 500 people and 80 vehicles were evacuated, but the ground link to and from Kan Mahatrzai, Ziarat, Toba Achakzai, Toba Kakri and Rood Mullazai remained severed because of the accumulated snow.
“After 5 days, the road links of the province with the rest of the country are restored,” said PDMA Director General Imran Zarkoon said. “Quetta-Chaman, Quetta-Zhob, Quetta-Karachi and Quetta-Sibi highways were re-opened for traffic.”
Extreme cold weather is likely to strengthen its grip over the next 48 hours, as forecasts suggest harsher weather is on the way. The Met Office issued a warning, highlighting the risk of closure of inter-city roads due to heavy snowfall and rains.
The Met Office forecast heavy snowfall and rains in Neelum, Bagh, Haveli, Rawalakot, in AJK, Astore, Hunza and Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan, and Swat, Kohistan, Shangla, Buner, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Galiyat, districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as well as hilly areas of Punjab.