Thu, Feb 24, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Coldest winter in decades kills hundreds across Asia

EMERGENCY The Red Cross in Afghanistan says that thousands could have been killed in avalanches, food shortages and freezing temperatures all over the region

AP , KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

Two Kashmiri men shovel snow in Srinagar yesterday. Heavy snowfalls closed the Srinagar-Jammu highway, the only road link between the Kashmir valley and the rest of the world, resulting in an acute shortage of essential domestic goods.

PHOTO: AFP

Freezing temperatures, avalanches and food shortages brought on by the coldest winter in years have killed hundreds of people in the mountainous regions of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

India reported 186 deaths in just the past week in its portion of Kashmir, while Pakistan says 346 have died in mountainous regions so far this season. Although Afghanistan has no firm toll, the Red Cross has put it at 260 and a foreign diplomat feared it could be in the thousands.

Supplies

Helicopters have been dropping food, blankets and other emergency supplies on remote villages across the snow-covered region, where many roads have been blocked by the snow.

Forecasters said the worst of the weather was over as skies cleared, but that snowfall may continue for a few days, while officials warned that warmer temperatures will bring more danger of avalanches.

"Sunshine will make the snow unstable, increasing the frequency of avalanches," Major General Raj Mehta, the top Indian military commander in the Kashmir valley, said on Tuesday.

He asked people living in high altitude areas to "immediately relocate."

Indian soldiers triggered snow slides with explosives to pre-empt avalanches and clear access to about a dozen villages buried in snow in the Pir Panjal mountains, Mehta said. Soldiers rescued 58 people there, but also recovered 15 bodies. Aid was being rushed in by army helicopters.

Highways in India's part of Kashmir have been blocked by that region's worst snowfall in 15 years, causing shortages of food and fuel, with many people struggling to stay warm. In Srinigar, India's main city in Kashmir, four restaurant workers were asphyxiated when they slept near a coal fire.

In Afghanistan, the US military and international aid groups have helped rush provisions to isolated communities. The Afghan government has not estimated its toll from the freeze, though the Red Cross said on Tuesday that 260 people have perished.

Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, Christopher Alexander, said several thousands may have died, highlighting the continued poverty of Afghans and their government's weakness three years after the fall of the Taliban.

Troops Help

In Pakistan, more casualties were expected as workers cleared debris from avalanches and collapsed buildings.

In southwestern Baluchistan Province, about 9,000 troops were helping to repair roads and fix power lines. Helicopters took food to some 2,000 people in the Baluchistan village of Toba Kakar, where at least 11 people died when mud-built homes collapsed under snow.

Many regions in Pakistan have reported record precipitation, including the heaviest snow in Baluchistan in 13 years. Murree, a hill resort town northeast of Islamabad, has received 5m of snow this winter, the most since 1976.

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