KABUL: Avalanches triggered by heavy snow have killed more than 100 people in mountainous areas of northern Afghanistan, officials said on Wednesday, as rescuers battled to save dozens more trapped in the snow.
Almost all of the victims were in Panjshir province, approximately 150 kilometres north of the capital Kabul, acting governor Abdul Rahman Kabiri said.
The avalanches came after two days of heavy snow destroyed more than 100 homes in the province and blocked main roads, making it difficult for rescue workers to reach the stricken villages.
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“Ordinary people and government employees are using shovels and bare hands to rescue those who are still trapped under the snow,” Mr Kabiri said, warning that the toll could rise without emergency help.
“We have gathered 300 people to help with the rescue, but we don’t have the equipment we need,” he added.
As temperatures plunged well below freezing, workers continued to toil into the night to rescue at least 28 people still believed to be trapped in their houses buried under the snow.
Around 30 people were also suffering from frostbite and other injuries after being rescued, the acting governor said. “We will continue the rescue operation throughout the night,” Mr Kabiri added.
One hundred were killed in Panjshir province, while a further 11 people lost their lives in the provinces of Bamyan, Badghis, Nangarhar and Laghman, officials said.
Abdul Rahman Kalantari, head of disaster response at the Afghan Red Crescent Society, confirmed the heavy death toll and said they had already dispatched health teams to Panjshir.
President Ashraf Ghani in a statement expressed his sorrow at the deaths and said he had ordered Afghan authorities to provide urgent assistance to those affected.
Earlier in the day, Mohammad Aslam Sayas, the deputy head of the Afghan disaster management authority, said rescue teams were being dispatched to areas affected by the snowfall.
Deadly avalanches are common in Afghanistan’s mountainous areas in winter. One in the remote far northeast in 2012 left 145 people missing, presumed dead.
In 2010, another avalanche killed 165 people in the high-altitude Salang Pass, which runs through the Hindu Kush mountain range that connects Kabul to the north.
Large parts of the north of Afghanistan have experienced heavy snowfall over the last 48 hours. Parts of Kabul were hit by power cuts after snowstorms and avalanches damaged power cables in the Salang Pass, which officials said remained closed to traffic on Wednesday.
Despite the billions of dollars in aid from the international community after the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan remains among the world’s poorest nations after decades of conflict.
Rescue efforts after disasters such as avalanches and flash floods, which often hit as snows melt in the spring, are frequently hampered by lack of equipment. Poor infrastructure makes it difficult for rescue teams to reach isolated areas.
Our Peshawar Bureau adds: Hailstorm and heavy rain lashed parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and nearby tribal areas on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, leaving at least six people dead and five others injured.
Some mountainous areas in KP and the tribal agencies received moderate snowfall, pulling down the mercury to freezing point.
In Swat district, the tourist resort of Malam Jabba received 82mm of rain, Met officials said.
In Parachinar, Kurram Agency, 72mm of rain was recorded. Both areas received moderate snowfall.
The rain and snowfall were accompanied by thunderstorm and lightning which caused panic among the people.
Police said the roof of a house in Mattani area of Peshawar, belonging to one Hakeem Shah, caved in partially, claiming the lives of three women.
Two children were killed when roof of a house in Haleemzai tehsil of Mohmand Agency collapsed, sources said.
According to a resident of the area, Kifayatullah, the roof of the katcha house of Wahab Khan caved in after midnight, resulting in the death of two teenaged girls. Mr Khan’s three sons were injured in the accident.
The rain caused extensive damage to standing crops in the agency.
A man was killed and two children were injured when the roof of a house in Malagori area of Jamrud tehsil caved in, sources said.
Flash floods swept away four vehicles in Landi Kotal tehsil, the sources added.
Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2015