Inclement weather hampers avalanche search efforts
ISLAMABAD HARSH weather conditions hampering the search for 138 people buried under a huge avalanche at a Pakistani army camp will last at least another 24 hours, a senior meteorological official said on Wednesday.
A huge wall of snow crashed into the remote Siachen Glacier base high in the mountains in disputed Kashmir early on Saturday morning, smothering an area of one square kilometre (a third of a square mile).
More than 450 rescuers are working in sub-zero temperatures at the site, which is at an altitude of around 4,000 metres (13,000 feet), though experts have said there is little chance of finding any survivors.
The site of the Gayari camp has been hit by heavy snow in recent days and Arif Mahmood, the head of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, said the bad weather was likely to last another day.
“The harsh weather conditions in Gayari will begin to improve from midday Thursday”, Mahmood told AFP in Islamabad.
“However, it will remain overcast today with thunderstorms and snowfall in Gayari and its surrounding areas.” Rescuers have been using mechanical excavators and shovels to dig through the vast expanse of snow, rock and ice dumped by the avalanche, but efforts to fly in more heavy equipment have been hindered by the weather.
Mahmood said flight operations to Gilgit and Skardu — the two nearest towns — should be able to resume late on Thursday or early on Friday.
Another weather official, who was supervising weather forecasts for the area, told AFP that the temperature at Gayari would be around minus eight to 10 degrees Celsius.
Rescuers have dug a 450- metre track on the avalanche site to access five points where the search is being concentrated, the military said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Work on another access track has also been started to widen the search perimeter”, it added.
Heavy machinery is at work at two of the points, while infantry troops are digging by hand at the other three, the statement said.
Photographs released by the military Tuesday showed diggers and rescuers at work on an almost featureless expanse of dirty grey snow and ice, with no trace visible of the camp that had been the 6th Northern Light Infantry headquarters.
The site is surrounded by some of the world’s highest peaks and lies near the de facto border with India in the militarised region of Kashmir, which has caused two wars between the neighbours since independence in 1947.