The death toll from snowfall and rain-related incidents in Pakistan over the last three days rose to 82, with dozens more injured, officials informed on Tuesday.
With rain and snowfall continuing in many parts of the country, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said it is expecting an increase in the death and injury tolls.
The worst-hit was Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), where the death toll from incidents of snow-sliding stood at 61 according to the latest reports. Balochistan was also severely affected as heavy rains across the province claimed 20 lives, while leaving at least 11 others injured.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, taking to Twitter, said he had instructed the NDMA, military and federal ministers to provide assistance to the people of AJK on an emergency footing.
Azad Jammu and Kashmir
In Neelum Valley, the death toll in several incidents of snow-sliding rose to 59 as the bodies of victims were retrieved from beneath mounds of snow on Tuesday, said Fayyaz Ali Abbasi, a senior official in the AJK government. He added that another 53 persons were rescued alive in injured condition.
Around 80 per cent of the casualties had occurred in the hamlets of Bakwali and Seri in Surgan area of tehsil Sharda, he said.
Sharda is located some 137 kilometres northeast of Muzaffarabad and Surgan area stretches into the high altitude mountains from there. Bakwali and Seri are located around 8 and 10 kilometres, respectively, off the main Neelum valley road.
Witnesses said that the rescue operation was carried out by local residents, police and army personnel. Neelum Deputy Commissioner Raja Mehmood Shahid told Dawn that all but six bodies had been recovered by the rescuers. He added that army helicopters had also taken part in rescue and relief operation.
According to Shahid, at least 53 houses and 17 shops had been leveled by the avalanches, while 78 houses and a mosque were partially damaged. Apart from that, seven vehicles and three motorbikes had also been damaged, he added. “It’s a big disaster … a disaster that this area had not gone through at such a scale in over a decade,” he said.
AJK Legislative Assembly Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir, who has returned from Neelum Valley, was in Islamabad on Tuesday to coordinate with the federal government authorities, including the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), to extend all possible assistance to the affected population.
Talking to Dawn from Islamabad, Qadir said that the rescue operation had almost been completed with the help of the army and civil administration but the next and real challenge was the relief operation, which too would be accomplished before Friday when another spell of heavy snowfall is expected.
Qadir’s electoral rival Mian Abdul Waheed, a former minister in the PPP government, stressed that since transportation of relief goods was not possible via the snow-capped link road to the affected hamlets, the government should engage helicopters.
“In order to keep the survivors alive, we have to rush essential supplies to them on a war footing,” he said. “This is not possible without employing helicopters,” he added.
Khalid Aziz, an official in the Neelum deputy commissioner’s office, told Dawn that around a dozen injured persons were airlifted from Bakwali to Sharda by an army helicopter that made four trips to the hamlet, using the ground of a local high school as a helipad.