ISLAMABAD - At least 74 people were killed and scores of others injured in land sliding and avalanche in 19 villages of Neelum valley, Azad Jammu Kashmir on Tuesday.

Around 50 injured people were shifted to nearby hospitals for medical treatment.

The AJK government has confirmed that this figure of the casualties could rise as the utilities for burial of at least 70 bodies and the food  items for over a hundred affected families have been dispatched  by the civil authorities with the assistance of the Pak army to the affected areas where relief and rescue operations were in full swing, official sources said.

Some unconfirmed reports put this death toll beyond 90.

The worst-hit was Azad Jammu and Kashmir, where the death toll from incidents of snow-sliding stood at 61 according to the latest reports.

With rain and snowfall continuing in many parts of the country, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said it is expecting an increase in the death and injury tolls.

According to latest reports compiled here, 45 houses are fully destroyed and 10 people are still missing while a search operation has been launched for their recovery.

Around 80 per cent of the casualties had occurred in the hamlets of Bakwali and Seri in Surgan area of tehsil Sharda, he said.

Sharda is located some 137 kilometres northeast of Muzaffarabad and Surgan area stretches into the high altitude mountains from there. Bakwali and Seri are located around 8 and 10 kilometres, respectively, off the main Neelum valley road.

The spokesperson for Balochistan government, Liaquat Shahwani, said 20 people had lost their lives in the province in snowfall-related incidents. He added that Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan was personally overseeing the relief work being conducted in the province.

“Most of those who died were women and children,” said Mohammad Younus, an official with the provincial disaster management authority, adding that hundreds remained stranded.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a man was killed and three other persons injured, as several areas received heavy snowfall. At least nine houses were partially damaged, said the PDMA spokesperson.

He added that efforts were afoot to reopen blocked thoroughfares in Chitral and other districts, which had received the heaviest rainfall.

In Shangla district, several areas presented a picturesque view as they were layered under a carpet of up to six-feet snow. Other plain areas, including Bisham City and Karakoram Highway, received an inch of snowfall.

National Disaster Managment Autbority spokesperson said that teams of NDMA and other relevant departments are carrying out relief operations through helicopters in affected areas.

Affected people are being provided food, blankets and medicines.

In Chitral, the Lowai Top Road is still blocked due to continuous heavy snow fall, making the surrounding areas inaccessible to vehicular traffic.

Relief, Disaster and Civil Defence Secretary Syed Shahid Mohyiddin Qadri told Dawn that heavy snowfall and rains had blocked several arteries in high altitude areas.

“Neelum Valley Road, Leepa Valley Road, Chikar-Bagh Road, Bagh-Lasdana Road, Mehmood Galli-Abbaspur Road and Tain Dhalkot Road were all closed for traffic,” he said.

According to NDMA, 20 people were killed including four in Pishin, nine in Zhob, one in Quetta, six in Kila Abdullah and one Mastung. As many as 23 people were injured including four in Quetta, three in Pishin, four Zhob and two Kila Abdullah.

On the other hand, the Met Office has issued warning of risk of closure of inter-cities connecting roads due to the heavy snowfall and rains in the districts of Swat, Kohistan, Shangla, Buner, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Murree, Galyat, Neelum, Bagh, Haveli, Rawalakot, Astore, Hunza and Skardu.  

It has also warned that heavy rains may trigger landslides and avalanches in Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Malakand and Hazara districts.

The officials of NDMA said that cold and dry weather is expected in different parts of the country in the next 24 hours in upper parts and north Balochistan. They said that cloudy weather with light rain and snowfall over hills is expected in Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir. They asked the people especially tourists to avoid unnecessary travel in snowbound and landslide-prone areas during the prevailing weather conditions.

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa has expressed grief over the loss of precious lives due to snow slide in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Balochistan.

He conveyed his condolences to the bereaved families as he directed the concerned authorities for continued assistance to civil administration for rescue and relief operations.

According to a statement of Inter-Services Public Relations, the army helicopters were undertaking operations in the snow-hit areas of Sharda, Sargan, Bakwal and Taobat.

Giving update on the snow slide in Neelum Valley, the ISPR said that doctors and paramedics, tents, blankets, ration and medicines were being provided to the affected families.

Pakistan Army Urban Search & Rescue teams have been evacuating the stranded population.

 

Prime Minister Imran Khan meanwhile directed to immediately provide all humanitarian assistance on emergency footing to the people affected by land sliding in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

“I have asked the National Disasters Management Authority (NDMA), the military and all our federal ministers to immediately provide all humanitarian assistance on an emergency footing to the affected people in AJK,” the PM said in a tweet.

He said that the severe snowfalls and landslides in AJK have resulted into misery and deaths.