Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Heavy snowfall cripples Kashmir

DEADLY STORM The heaviest snowfall in two decades killed at least 50 people in Kashmir over the weekend, with scores of people still missing

AFP , SRINAGAR, INDIA

A Kashmiri man looks at a houseboat damaged by snow in Srinagar, India, on Sunday. Kashmir remained cut off from the rest of India for a second day on Sunday as heavy snowfall triggered avalanches that killed at least eight people in the Himalayan region, police and officials said.

PHOTO: AP

At least 50 people were killed at the weekend and scores were missing yesterday after the heaviest snowfall in two decades caused avalanches and brought Indian Kashmir to a near-halt, officials said.

Nine bodies were recovered overnight and yesterday from Verinag, 80km south of Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar and the southern Poonch district, police said, taking the death toll since late Saturday to 50.

At least three dozen people were reported missing from various parts of Kashmir over the weekend, they said, adding army rescue and medical teams were searching for survivors.

The weekend deaths take the toll in two weeks of heavy snow to 78, including 19 soldiers, with at least 50 people now reported missing.

On Sunday, 27 bodies were recovered from three places hit by avalanches triggered by the heavy snowfall.

Police said more than 1,000 houses have been damaged by the snow so far.

"We have no information about scores of villages in avalanche-prone areas as there is no communication," a police officer said.

Indian troops posted to the region to fight Islamic rebels have been ordered to help in relief operations, Indian army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel V.K. Batra said.

Residents expressed anger at an absence of civil officials and workers on the streets of Srinagar.

"Only troops are clearing the snow. Civil administration is in slumber. Our stocks have run out," Srinagar resident Imtiaz Ahmed said.

Srinagar has been without power for four days. Officials said it would take at least two days to restore even minimum power in the city, often plagued by blackouts.

"It's the heaviest snowfall in two decades," said G.K. Mohanti, head of the state meteorological department.

"We are receiving signs of improvement today and no major snowfall has been recorded from anywhere since morning," he said.

Normal life in Srinagar came to a halt after a meter of snow blanketed the city, with shops and markets closed and people staying indoors.

Road links were cut, causing a shortage of essential supplies. Continuous snow since late Thursday also halted air travel.

A government spokesman said, weather permitting, the Indian Air Force would conduct five sorties yesterday to airlift vegetables and others essentials to Srinagar.

A police officer said more than 1,500 people were still stranded along a snowbound highway between Srinagar and the winter capital Jammu, and motorists were being housed in emergency accommodation.

The stranded were sending text messages through mobile phones to their relatives to reassure them of their wellbeing, he said.

"We are trying to airlift the stranded passengers," a senior police officer, Gareeb Das, said.

Besides engaging in rescue operations in all the snow-bound areas, the army was also assisting stranded passengers.

"We have set up three medical camps on the [Jammu-Srinagar] highway where doctors will provide free check-ups and medicines to those down with weather-related problems," the Indian army's northern command chief, Lieutenant General Hari Prasad said.

"Soldiers posted in the upper reaches and far-flung areas of Kashmir have been directed to restore road traffic and communication systems that stand totally paralyzed," Prasad said.

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