Death toll jumps to 35 across Pakistan as rain triggers landslide, avalanches

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By Tariq Naqash and Saleem Shahid

MUZAFFARABAD/QUETTA: Avalanches, landslides and other rain-related incidents claimed at least 21 more lives and left scores of others injured on Monday as most parts of the country remained in the grip of a strong westerly weather system that had entered Balochistan in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Eleven of the nearly two dozen deaths were reported from Kashmir, seven from Punjab and three from Balochistan. The country’s largest province had recorded 14 deaths in rain-related incidents on Sunday.

Death toll during the current spell of heavy showers across the country has risen to 35.

Heavy rains triggered landslides and avalanches in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Malakand and Hazara divisions, leading to closure of major roads and highways, including the Karakoram Highway, while Chitral was cut off from the rest of the province due to snowfall.

Most of the casualties occurred in Neelum Valley of Kashmir and upper parts of Balochistan where rains and avalanches damaged over two dozen houses, several shops and a mosque, as the local administration continued rescue and relief efforts with the help of army personnel and disaster management officials.

In two districts of Kashmir, officials said, at least 11 people died and 12 others suffered injuries on Monday.

The first casualty of the day in AJK was reported from Lawat Bala village when three of nearly a dozen children, who were on their way to their school, were struck by a huge mass of snow, according to SP Asif Durrani. Residents rushed to the scene and rescued all the children, but Laiba, 14, daughter of Ghulam Hussain, who did not survive. Two other children — Mubashar and Salma — sustained injuries, but were out of danger, the SP said.

In Kandyan Wala Bela village, an avalanche struck some six houses. However, as many as 26 inhabitants managed to rush to safety, but a woman and her two children were trapped in one of the houses and could not be recovered till late evening, said Akhtar Ayub, a disaster management officer, based in district headquarters Athmuqam. Rescue work had to be stopped as a second avalanche had hit their house in the evening, he said, adding that there were no chances of their survival. He identified them as Parveen Bibi, 35, wife of Zafran, Saima, 22, and Waqar, 14.

In Khorriyan Dudhniyal village, a house was struck by a glacier, trapping seven persons inside, Mr Ayub said, adding that neighbours carried out rescue operation and recovered one body later identified as Hafeez, 14, son of Mushtaq. The remaining six injured were rescued.

In Shaikh Bela village of Kel, Arif, 16, son of Dilbar, and Ashraf, 32, son of Waliur Rehman, died in separate incidents after being struck by snow slips, Mr Ayub said. Rukhtaj Bibi, 24, and Mirza Khan 45, were injured after they were recovered alive from beneath a mass of snow in Kharigam village, he added.

In Surgan village, an avalanche hit a house, leaving two women and a man dead and two others injured.

According to the officer, at least 21 houses, four shops and one mosque were damaged in rain- and snowfall-related incidents in the valley.

Elsewhere in AJK, 17-year-old Danish Majeed was killed in Neriyan village of district Sudhnoti after the wall of his mud-house collapsed in the small hours of Monday.

Relief, disaster and civil defence secretary Syed Shahid Mohyiddin Qadri told Dawn that heavy snowfall and rains had blocked several arteries in high altitude areas. Neelum Valley road, Leepa Valley road, Chikar-Bagh road, Bagh-Lasdana road, Mehmood Galli-Abbaspur road and Tain Dhalkot road were closed to traffic, he said.

Mr Qadri advised people, particularly tourists, to avoid unnecessary travel in the snowbound and landslide-prone areas in the prevailing weather conditions.

According to reports received from the disaster management authority’s control room in Quetta, at least 17 people have died and an equal number of people suffered injuries in snowfall- and rain-related incidents across Balochistan over the past three days.

The PDMA declared a state of emergency in Mastung, Qila Abdullah, Kech, Ziarat, Harnai and Pishin districts.

Due to heavy snowfall on Khojak Top, communication lines between Ziarat and Quetta were severely affected. The Quetta-Chaman highway was also closed to traffic.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Karakoram Highway was closed due to landsliding in the Pattan area of Lower Kohistan, while Chitral district was disconnected from the rest of the province due to heavy snowfall, our Peshawar Bureau adds.

Upper parts of the province — Malakand and Hazara divisions — received heavy snowfall, leading to closure of main roads. Six people were injured and four houses collapsed in rain-related incidents across KP.

In Punjab, seven people, including three children, died and at least 13 others suffered injuries in rain-related incidents, mainly house collapse and road crashes amid poor visibility.

Intermittent rain caused flooding in low-lying areas of Sialkot, Gujrat and some other cities.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2020

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