More than 70 people were killed and many more were missing after avalanches in Pakistan-administered Kashmir over the last 24 hours, senior government officials said yesterday.
A massive avalanche swept away homes in the Neelum area of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, killing at least 71 people and leaving dozens missing, the national disaster agency said.
Army helicopters, military vehicles and hundreds of rescuers were yesterday “scrambling through a sea of mud and rocks in a frantic search for dozens of people still feared trapped”, said Raja Farooq Haider, the prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir.
“The death toll might be much higher than our estimates ... we still don’t have any idea how many people are missing,” he said.
Helicopters and heavy machinery were being used for rescue operations and to deliver food and medicines to victims in areas made inaccessible due to the landslides.
According to Ahmad Raza Qadri, the chief of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa disaster management authority, 49 bodies were removed from collapsed buildings in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“Rescue operation is under way with the help of Pakistan army,” he said, adding that due to the severe weather conditions the operations were hampered.
He added the injured were shifted in Pakistan army helicopters to nearby hospitals.
In neighbouring India, at least 10 people were killed after several avalanches hit the northern-part of Indian-administered Kashmir.
Pakistani officials said many villagers were still stranded by the avalanches in the Neelum Valley area following heavy rain that also triggered landslides.
Many people were reported missing and feared dead as rescue efforts got under way, one of the officials said.
Rescuers had managed to extract more than 50 people from the snow and airlifted them out of the area for treatment.
Authorities also scrambled to provide relief to local people with another spell of heavy snow expected on Friday.
At least 53 houses had been completely destroyed by avalanches in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), officials said.
“I have asked the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the military and all our federal ministers to immediately provide all humanitarian assistance on an emergency footing to the affected people in AJK,” Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted.
A senior Indian police official said five soldiers were among the 10 killed near the border between India and Pakistan.
The area is one of the world’s most militarily tense frontiers, where the neighbouring armies have confronted each other over disputed territory for decades.
Kashmir has been divided between Indian and Pakistan since their independence in 1947.
In 2012, an avalanche engulfed a Pakistani army battalion headquarters near the Indian border, killing at least 124 soldiers and 11 civilians.
In Baluchistan, at least 31 people had been killed in separate weather-related incidents.
“Most of those who died were women and children,” said Mohamed Younus, an official with the provincial disaster management authority, adding that many hundreds remained stranded.
Elsewhere, in the country, a number of people have been killed because of the severe weather.
Three people were killed in Punjab province, and in Sindh, one person lost his life as a result of heavy rains in Sukkur.
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