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Avalanches, cold kill in Kashmir

Avalanches and extreme cold have killed at least 284 people in the divided Himalayan province of Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani officials said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Avalanches and extreme cold have killed at least 284 people in the divided Himalayan province of Kashmir, and about 150 others are missing on both sides, Indian and Pakistani officials said Tuesday.

Heavy snow has gripped the region since last week, temperatures have dropped to minus 34 and rescue workers are finding more bodies beneath the snow. Avalanches have closed roads throughout the region, cutting off Indian and Pakistani residents for the fifth straight day. Indians in one region were ordered to evacuate immediately.

In Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, officials said at least 58 people have been killed by the freezing weather during the past two weeks, mostly by avalanches. In India-controlled Kashmir, at least 226 people have died since Friday from the weather, and the Indian air force flew in food and fuel to the affected areas.

India’s top military commander in the Kashmir valley ordered people living in the Pir Panjal mountains, south of Srinagar, where most avalanches have occurred, to immediately evacuate.

Early Wednesday, officials recovered the bodies of 40 people from their homes in the southern district of Anantnag, said Ashiq Bukhari, a senior police officer.

Soldiers and paramilitary troops trekked to remote villages in the Pir Panjal range and rescued more than 100 people stranded in houses completely covered by snow, Bukhari said Wednesday.

The snow began falling in Indian Kashmir on Friday and the avalanches began Sunday night. Between Friday and Sunday, 41 people were killed. By Monday, another 113 bodies were found. On Tuesday, another 32 were discovered.

In some areas, Indian army soldiers used explosives to trigger avalanches and pre-empt future slides, said Maj. Gen. Raj Mehta, India’s top military commander in the Kashmir valley. About a dozen villages were buried by slides in the Pir Panjal mountain range.

In Rang Munda, a village there, three people were killed Tuesday. At least 10 residents were missing from that village, Mehta said.

In two nearby villages, rescue workers found 15 bodies as they began clearing away the snow Tuesday, said Bukhari.

Police and soldiers found another 10 bodies Tuesday in the village of Ramsu, which was hit by an avalanche Sunday night, said a police officer in Jammu, the state’s other major city. At least 12 people were still missing in the village, which is about 60 miles south of Srinagar, the officer said on condition of anonymity.

In Srinagar, restaurant workers found the bodies of four colleagues who were asphyxiated after leaving a coal fire burning in their room to keep warm as they slept.

Soldiers rescued 58 people in several villages, and army helicopters dropped food packets and blankets for rescue workers to distribute to stranded residents, Mehta said.

Weather officials expect the cold spell to continue for a few more days.

“There will be snow or rain over the next few days but the worst is over,” said G.K. Mohanty, director of the meteorological office in Srinagar.

In Srinagar, the temperature dropped to minus 34 Tuesday. The intense cold was aggravated by at least the fifth straight day of power outages in most parts of Srinagar city and the rest of the state.

It will take up to 10 days to restore power to the Kashmir valley, said the state’s chief engineer, Shaukat Wani.