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Avalanches kill hundreds in Kashmir

The Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir suffered a series of devastating avalanches within the last few days after a period of heavy rain and snowfall, according to The New York Times. A recent report from the Associated Press indicated the death toll is now tallied at 160 people as rescuers continue to dig through the debris in multiple settlements. A January 14 Reuters report said that at least 10 people died in areas controlled by India.

Steve Swenson, the author of Karakoram: Climbing Through the Kashmir Conflict, shared the following perspective with Alpinist:

Many of the villages in the mountainous areas of Kashmir are located on alluvial fans that are…exposed to flooding, avalanches and rockfall. The alluvial fans are formed by side streams flowing out of the mountains that dump their sediment when they reach the main rivers in the valley bottom. Most of Kashmir is arid and…[these] alluvial fans provide access to water from the side streams that irrigate their terraced fields using an elaborate network of gravity flow channels…[providing] them with a water supply that is critical to the subsistence agriculture that they depend on….

The New York Times reported that many survivors had to choose between “burying their dead or taking injured relatives to the hospital, making the long trek through the snow on foot…. Police officers and local volunteers are walking, sometimes for miles, to areas covered by as much as two meters of snow, braving freezing temperatures and the threat of more avalanches.”

The Pakistani military is leading the rescue efforts.

The New York Times article quoted 62-year-old Abdul Rahman Sheikh, whose house was buried with seven people inside. “He dug through the snow until midnight” and managed to save his daughter-in-law.

“I have eight dead bodies lying in the open” he told the Times. “If I send her to the hospital, who will look after her there? And if I go along with her, who will bury the eight bodies?”

Other residents shared similar stories.