Pakistan avalanches: Death toll rises to 77 as rescuers continue search for survivors

World Faizah Kamal 20-Jan-2020
© Zzvet |

Army helicopters flew rescue missions for the third day running in an avalanche-hit area of Pakistan-administered Kashmir as the death toll from the disaster rose to 77 on January 16, officials said.

The latest victim of the avalanches in Neelum Valley, in the Himalayan region, was a six-year-old girl, Safia, who died in hospital on January 16.

Safia had been pulled out alive on January 14 after being buried for nearly 20 hours, a doctor, quoting the child’s family, said. “She had suffered fractures in her skull and orbital bones and left leg and despite our best efforts died of her brain injuries,” the doctor, Adnan Mehraj, told the news organisation Reuters.

Safia’s family were elated when she was found alive, her uncle, Naseer Ahmed told Reuters, but now relatives are in shock. Safia was the 19th member of her family to perish in the Neelum Valley avalanches.

“I am not in my senses … We have lost almost everyone in the family from young kids to elderly members,” said a visibly disturbed Ahmed.

“This extreme weather has played havoc with the lives of people living in high altitude mountains,” Pakistani-Kashmir’s top administrative official, Mathar Niaz Rana, said.

“We are trying our best to alleviate their sufferings,” he told Reuters, as two helicopters were being loaded with relief supplies, including food and medicine, in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-Kashmir.

Further north in the country, in the mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan region which borders China, five personnel of the Pakistan army were killed when an avalanche hit them as they were carrying out rescue efforts, according to a senior official. The five personnel were from the engineer corps and they were helping to clear roads which were covered due to landslides in the area.