Avalanches claim dozens of lives on both sides of divided Kashmir

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The Independent Online

Avalanches are causing deaths on both sides of divided Kashmir after the heaviest snowfalls in more than a decade. At least 38 villagers were killed when avalanches buried their homes in Pakistani-held Kashmir yesterday, a day after six Indian soldiers were killed in avalanches on the other side of the Line of Control, the ceasefire line.

Avalanches are causing deaths on both sides of divided Kashmir after the heaviest snowfalls in more than a decade. At least 38 villagers were killed when avalanches buried their homes in Pakistani-held Kashmir yesterday, a day after six Indian soldiers were killed in avalanches on the other side of the Line of Control, the ceasefire line.

In the Neelum Valley, in Pakistan-held Kashmir, avalanches completely buried traditional mud-brick houses in several villages. Rescue workers and police found 33 bodies in one village, and five more in another nearby. Only one child survived from a family of six when an avalanche hit their home in the Leepa Valley, also on the Pakistani-held side. "I think the death toll will rise because some people are still missing," said Mohammed Tayyab, a government official.

Pakistan is facing the worst winter weather it has seen in a long time. Nearly 300 people have died because of extreme conditions around the country, more than 130 of them after a dam in the south-west burst under the strain of exceptionally heavy rains.

Yesterday hundreds of people were still missing after the collapse of the Shadikor dam in Pasni, near the coast of Baluchistan. More than 20,000 people have now been affected, with at least five villages completely flooded, and nearby towns evacuated because of fears that the waters may rise further. Baluchistan is an arid desert where such heavy rain is extremely rare.

There have also been deaths near Pakistan's mountainous border with Afghanistan. Newspapers reported as many as 97 had died in avalanches, flash floods and building collapses.

Much of the Northern Areas, home to some of the world's highest peaks, including K2, was completely cut off, with roads snowed under and flights cancelled.

On the Indian side of Kashmir, 3,000 people have been stranded for several days on a highway cut off by snowdrifts. And in Afghanistan, which regularly endures very severe winters, 100 people are reported to have died owing to the extreme cold this year.

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