More than 24 hours of heavy snowfall and rain have triggered a series of 100 people.
“The severe snowfalls and landslides in AJK [Azad Jammu and Kashmir] have caused misery & deaths. I have asked the NDMA [National Disaster Management Authority], the military & all our ministers to immediately provide all humanitarian assistance on an emergency footing to the affected people in AJK,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted after visiting the region.
Among the fatalities, 41 died in a single avalanche in the Neelum Valley in the northernmost district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Local authorities say that many are still buried under the snow with the death toll expected to rise. A 12-year-old girl was found alive after being buried under snow for 18 hours following an avalanche.
Rescue efforts hampered by snowfall
Ahmad Raza Qadri, minister for the disaster management authority in Kashmir, said they had declared a state of emergency in the affected areas on January 14. “Rescuers are facing difficulties in reaching the stricken villages,” he said.
Military helicopters were being used to evacuate people, as authorities struggle to clear highways to reach the victims who were cut off by heavy snowfall and avalanches in both Pakistan and its neighboring country, Afghanistan. Injured victims were airlifted by army helicopters to the region’s capital, Muzaffarabad, for treatment. More helicopters are scheduled to airdrop food and essential supplies to residents cut off by snow.
The recent avalanches have raised the overall death toll due to severe winter weather to 160 in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The situation was returning to normal on January 16 in Afghanistan, following several days of heavy snowfall, rains and flash floods that killed 39 people and damaged around 300 homes.
Avalanches in recent years
Extreme winter weather bringing heavy snowfall to the region has resulted in a series of avalanches in recent years.
In 2017, at least 156 people, mostly women and children, died as avalanches buried villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In April 2012, an avalanche at the Siachen glacier in Kashmir killed 140 people, including 129 soldiers.
Avalanches and landslides are common in the Kashmir region, which is situated along the Himalayan Karakoram mountain range, where territorial claims on the region by Pakistan and India have lasted for decades.