MUZAFFARABAD/QUETTA: As avalanches continued to sweep through the Neelum valley of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), hitting hundreds of buildings and killing dozens of residents, the country’s top civil and military leadership on Tuesday directed relevant authorities to immediately provide humanitarian assistance to the affected people.
The death toll in avalanches, landslides and other rain-related incidents during the current spell of a westerly wave weather system across the country has surged to 93, with most of the cases being reported from AJK, followed by Balochistan.
Officials said the figure could further go up as some areas in the valley were still inaccessible due to heavy snowfall, while weather pundits forecast another spell of snowfall starting on Friday.
In all, 66 people have been killed in the AJK, 20 in Balochistan and at least seven in Sialkot and other districts of Punjab over the past couple of days. The rain-related incidents also led to closure of major roads and highways in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, besides AJK and Balochistan.
A senior member of the Board of Revenue, Fayyaz Ali Abbasi, told Dawn that all but six of the bodies had been retrieved by Tuesday evening in AJK. Another 53 persons were recovered alive but with injuries, he added. He feared that casualties could go up as some remote snow-affected areas were still inaccessible.
Avalanches hit AJK; PM, COAS issue orders for immediate rescue, relief work
According to Neelum Deputy Commissioner Raja Mahmood Shahid, almost 80pc of the casualties had occurred in the hamlets of Bakwali and Seri in Surgan area of tehsil Sharda.
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 damaged, he added.
AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider, who was in Islamabad, reviewed the situation in Neelum valley and measures to mitigate the sufferings of the victims at a meeting which was attended among others by AJK Legislative Assembly speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir. He asked the local administration to leave no stone unturned to alleviate the sufferings of the affected people.
While expressing grief over the deaths in AJK, Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “…I have asked the NDMA, the military and all our federal ministers to immediately provide all humanitarian assistance on an emergency footing to the affected people in AJK.”
Mr Qadir told Dawn that the real challenge after the rescue operation would be relief work that he vowed to accomplish before Friday when another spell of heavy snowfall was expected to begin.
Mr Shahid said an army helicopter airlifted 14 injured survivors from Bakwali to Sharda earlier in the day in addition to dropping relief goods there. The deputy commissioner said huge snow also blocked main Neelum valley road near Dawarian, which halted relief goods transportation.
AJK ministers Ahmed Raza Qadri and Waqar Ahmed Noor, who drove to Dawarian to see road condition, were told that machinery had been employed to clear the road of snow from both sides.
In a statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had expressed grief over the loss of precious lives due to snowslide in the AJK and Balochistan and had directed for continued assistance to civil administration for rescue and relief operation.
Over 500 rescued in Balochistan
The situation in Balochistan improved with a break in the spell of snowfall, as the provincial disaster management authority with the help of local administration and security forces expedited rescue efforts.
The officials managed to evacuate over 500 people, who had been trapped in Kan Mehtarzai, Muslim Bagh and other areas due to blocking of the national highways linking Quetta since Sunday. Official sources said around 100 vehicles, including passenger coaches, coming from Punjab and KP, resumed travel after the highways were cleared of snow.
However, reports reaching here say that despite the rescue operation many link roads were still closed. Hundreds of people trapped in villages, which received four to five-foot snow, were in need of help as minimum temperature dropped to minus 11 in snow-hit areas.
At least three deaths were reported in different snowslide and rain-related incidents on Tuesday. Spokesman for the provincial government Liaquat Ali Shahwani confirmed 20 deaths by snowfall and torrential rains across the province during the past couple of days.
He told a presser that the government utilised all resources to rescue people. He said the national and provincial highways had been opened to traffic while link roads would be opened to traffic within the next couple of days.
He said: “The recent spate of snowfall has broken down 30 years record.”
Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2020