Afghan avalanche claims 35 lives

KUNDUZ: An avalanche struck a remote mountainous area of northern Afghanistan two weeks ago, killing 35 people and burying homes beneath the snow, a provincial official said today.

The disaster struck in Badakhshan province in the far north, but harsh weather and the remoteness of the province bordering China, Pakistan and Tajikistan meant local officials had to travel for weeks to seek help.

“An avalanche swept through five civilian houses in Arghanj Khowa district, killing 35 people, including men, women and children,” said Marouf Rasikh, the spokesman for northern Badakhshan province.

“Two representatives of the district got to the provincial capital after travelling

for 13 days on snow-blocked roads and they informed

us of the incident last night,” he added.

Rasikh told AFP that the area was covered in about three metres of snow, hampering any rescue efforts and attempts to bury the dead.

“Snow closes roads and leaves many villages isolated every winter in Badakhshan province,” he said. “An emergency committee is meeting here tomorrow with the NATO forces to see if we can offer any help via air and helicopters.” Such deadly avalanches are rare in Afghanistan during winter, but are more frequent in the spring when heavy snows melt.

In early February, about 170 people were killed when a blizzard and massive avalanches hit the Salang Pass, a treacherous stretch in the Hindu Kush mountain range connecting the north and south of Afghanistan, Afghan soldiers and

villagers used home-made tools to dig for bodies and survivors after one of the country’s worst such disasters, which sent cars and buses tumbling into a rocky valley and trapping hundreds of people.