February 2005 News

Rescuers Dig For Kashmir Avalanche Victims Despite Fresh Snow

28 February 2005
Agence France-Presse

Srinagar: Police and volunteer rescuers Monday battled fresh snowfall to dig for victims of avalanches that killed 252 people across Indian Kashmir in the past 10 days, officials said. The avalanches caused the most damage in half a dozen hamlets in the southern Pir Panjal mountain range on February 19 and 20 with officials saying more than 50 people were still missing. Doctors said there was little chance of finding anyone alive. 'Police and civilian volunteers continued to dig through snow on Monday despite fresh snowfall in the affected areas,' a police officer said. He said locals were identifying sites where bodies may be trapped under the snow. Local meteorological office head G.K. Anthony said fresh snow had fallen on the mountains since Sunday evening with more expected. 'It is likely going to rain or snow in most parts of the state in the next 24 hours,' he said. Four specially trained teams from the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police have reached Kashmir to help dig out more bodies, state deputy police chief Javed Maqdoomi told reporters in the summer capital Srinagar. 'They are specially trained to work on snow and hostile environment,' Maqdoomi said, adding the teams were equipped with sophisticated equipment. 'What our men can do in 10 days, they can do in a day,' he said. Initially civilian rescuers dug out bodies using farm tools and their bare hands but now they have been given shovels and axes. But police said the operation was hampered by a lack of tracker dogs to sniff out bodies. 'We have a scarcity of such dogs. Police have few but they are on security duty,' said Israr Khan, a police officer in charge of rescue operations in the affected areas of the Himalayan region. Inclement weather has claimed some 280 lives since February 7 in Kashmir. Meanwhile, a hardline faction of region's main separatist alliance Monday said the government had failed in providing rescue and relief operations in the affected areas and urged United Nations involvement. 'The United Nations and world community should get actively involved in relief and rescue operations in Kashmir,' Nayeem Khan, a senior leader of hardline faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, told reporters in Kashmir. 'There is such a need given the magnitude of the devastation and failure of the government to provide succour to the affected people.' A government spokesman denied the allegation saying a refugee camp had been set- up for the survivors and security forces were helping in relief operations. India, which is fighting an insurgency in Kashmir, refused international help for its tsunami victims.


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