ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani military on Sunday dug through snow, boulders and slush in an increasingly desperate search for 135 people buried in an avalanche, as hopes faded of finding any survivors.
Nearly 36 hours after a wall of snow crashed into a remote army camp high up in the mountains of Kashmir, rescuers were yet to recover any survivors or even bodies from the Siachen Glacier, where Pakistani and Indian troops face off.
The camp was engulfed between 5:00am and 6:00am on Saturday -- perhaps when some were sleeping -- by a mass of snow, stones, mud and slush more than 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) wide and 25 metres high, the military said in a statement.
About 180 military personnel and 60 civilian rescuers were braving freezing temperatures at the inhospitable site close to the de facto border with India, in area known as the world's highest battlefield, the military said.
Experts familiar with the glacier said there was little hope of finding survivors -- the military said overnight that 135 people were missing from the camp, including 124 soldiers from the 6th Northern Light Infantry battalion.
“There is no hope, there is no chance at all,” mountaineering expert Colonel Sher Khan told AFP.
“You can survive only in the first 5-10 minutes,” said Khan. “The casualties in avalanches occur due to pressure of heavy weight, extreme cold and lack of oxygen.”
The powerful army chief General Ashfaq Kayani visited the epicentre of the disaster and “supervised rescue operations himself”, the military said.
“The avalanche of such a magnitude was unprecedented in last 20 years of this Battalion Headquarters existence at Gayari,” he said.
General Kayani instructed the commanders “to optimally utilize all available resources at their disposal and leave no stone unturned to reach out to the entrapped personnel,” it said.
“It's a huge, huge avalanche,” a senior military officer told AFP, adding rescue work would take several days.
Specially trained search-and-rescue teams of army engineers equipped with the latest locating gadgets and heavy machinery had arrived, the military statement said, joining rescue units aided by sniffer dogs and helicopters.
“Adequate medical staff has been made available for the treatment of injured persons in forward field hospitals,” it added.
A tailor and two hairdressers were among the civilians missing in the thick snow in the militarised region of Kashmir, which has caused two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947 from Britain.