Army Rescue Teams Look For Kashmir's Avalanche Dead
27 February 2005
Srinagar: Indian army mountaineering teams and sniffer dogs were scouring avalanche-stuck areas of Kashmir for survivors and bodies, officials said on Sunday. At least 278 people, including children, died when the avalanches swept through villages in southern Kashmir last weekend during the heaviest snowfall in 40 years in the Himalayan region. At least 300 people are still missing. 'The Army has deployed 20 specialist mountaineering teams ... for rescue and relief operations,' Jammu and Kashmir governor S. K. Sinha said. Some villages still were inaccessible more than a week after the avalanches devastated the area. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the region on Sunday to assess the damage. He doubled the compensation to victims' families to 100,000 rupee ($2,293). 'To make a real assessment about damage to life and property in inaccessible areas is difficult,' Farooq Ranzoo, a spokesman of the Jammu and Kashmir government, said. Helicopters, which have been dropping food to survivors, were also releasing leaflets urging people needing help to hoist flags that could be seen from the air. In the worst-hit village of Waltango and three neighbouring villages in south Kashmir, rescuers braved freezing temperatures to dig through snow to find more frozen bodies. Around 150 people have been confirmed dead in Waltango which had a population of 550. Dozens are missing there and in adjacent villages. Residents in Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, complained of shortages of cooking gas, kerosene and vegetables as the region's key highway remained closed for the 11th day on Sunday. Queues of vehicles were seen at fuel stations in the city. 'People have started fighting for a litre of petrol or diesel,' Farooq Ahmad, an owner of a fuel station, said. Officials said more than 1,000 people still stranded on the Srinagar- Jammu highway, which connects Kashmir with rest of India, were being lifted by air force helicopters to Jammu, the region's winter capital. Indian Kashmir is not the only area hit by the severe winter weather in the region. In Afghanistan, hundreds of people, including up to 200 children, have died from cold-related illnesses in one of the coldest winters in years.