Rescuers struggle to reach Afghan avalanche victims

People removing snow from their home compounds in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on Sunday. A series of avalanches over the weekend destroyed dozens of homes and killed livestock, mostly in central and northern provinces. The death toll across the country reac
People removing snow from their home compounds in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on Sunday. A series of avalanches over the weekend destroyed dozens of homes and killed livestock, mostly in central and northern provinces. The death toll across the country reached at least 137 yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

KABUL • Rescuers are battling to reach survivors of avalanches in Afghanistan's remote, mountainous north as the death toll topped 100, and fears are growing for dozens of people still believed to be trapped beneath the snow.

Aid is being delivered by helicopter to worst-hit Nuristan province, where at least 64 people have been killed - including 53 in one village, provincial governor Hafiz Abdul Qayyom told AFP.

But there has been no word yet from some villages in Nuristan, which Mr Hafiz said received nearly 3m of snow, with blocked roads and mountainous terrain slowing the rescue effort. "We will evacuate wounded victims to the city of Jalalabad for treatment," he said, adding that skies were clear yesterday.

The snowfall had also blocked roads and killed at least 19 people in neighbouring Badakhshan, the provincial governor's spokesman, Mr Naweed Ahmad Froutan said, adding that relief workers were struggling to get aid through by helicopter. The series of avalanches over the weekend destroyed dozens of homes and killed livestock, mostly in central and northern provinces.

Unusually, snow even fell in the southern province of Kandahar.

The updated tolls from Nuristan and Badakhshan brought the number of deaths across the country to at least 137 yesterday, though the authorities were due to update the figures later.

Severe weather also affected neighbouring Pakistan, with at least 13 people killed in the north-west which was hit by avalanches and heavy rain.

An avalanche smashed into eight homes in Shershal village in Chitral district, killing nine people including four women and four children. The region has been hit by heavy snowfall that is 1.2m deep in places.

A separate avalanche killed a soldier at a border checkpoint in Chitral district, a military statement said, while six more soldiers were injured. In the Khyber tribal district on the Afghan border in the north-west, three infant girls were killed and two women injured when the roof of their house collapsed in heavy rain.

Deadly avalanches are common in Afghanistan's mountainous areas in winter, and rescue efforts are often hampered by lack of equipment.

Despite receiving billions of dollars in international aid after the ousting of the Taleban government in 2001, Afghanistan remains among the world's poorest nations.

Last month, heavy snowfall and freezing weather killed 27 children, all under the age of five, in Jawzjan province in northern Afghanistan.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2017, with the headline 'Rescuers struggle to reach Afghan avalanche victims'. Print Edition | Subscribe