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Brutal cold snap brings death toll to at least 170 in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan

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Heavy snow, rain, and frigid temperatures across Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan continue to trigger avalanches that have brought the death toll to at least 170, as of Thursday, January 16, 2020.

In Pakistan, at least 15 more people, including five army soldiers, died in avalanches in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, bringing the fatality count to at least 121 in the country.

In Astore district, avalanches killed five soldiers, a woman, and a child in two separate locations, according to officials. Several others were injured as well, and four houses were damaged.

The five army personnel were hit in the Dombabaho area of Astore on Tuesday, January 15, and were identified as Lance Naik Banaras Iqbal, Lance Naik Abdul Razzaq, SPR Mohammad Rafiq, SPR Shahzad Akram, and SPR Ammar Ali. Officials added that all five bodies were recovered and brought to Gilgit.

In a press release issued by authorities on Wednesday, Gilgit-Baltistan disaster management authority and district administrations said road clearing operations have started, as well as restorations of telecommunication, electricity, and basic infrastructures across the region.

Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived at Muzaffarabad on the same day, where AJK chief secretary Mathar Niaz Rana informed him of the losses. The officials also discussed rescue efforts being conducted in the valley.

In the Thali area of Qamri town, a four-year-old and a teenager died in an avalanche, while two other members of the family sustained injuries.

Meanwhile, in Neelum Valley, the death toll rose to 74 as more fatalities were reported from a remote hamlet lying in the nearest proximity of the Line of Control.

According to Neelum Deputy Commissioner Raja Shahid Mahmood, a girl lost her life in Seri village, while other casualties were reported from Chaknaar village in Gurez.

A resident of Chaknaar named Mohammad Liaquat said they found out from military sources that at least 14 had died in the village. "My wife and four children are in Chaknaar and I do not have any information about their safety."

Liaquat, along with other Chaknaar residents, said they had been waiting at the helipad to be boarded for their hometown. "The authorities should have ensured that we are flown to our area so that we can bury our dead and take care of the survivors, but the whole day was spent in arrangements for the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan."

In Afghanistan, at least 39 deaths have been confirmed due to the brutal cold spell. Moreover, around 300 homes had been destroyed by flood and heavy snowfall since January 12, the government said.

Highways in parts of the country were blocked by snow, prompting officials to suspend transportation of goods on road. As a result, military helicopters were being deployed to help evacuate trapped residents.

"We are distributing emergency assistance, including cash to families of the victims," said Tamim Azimi, spokesman for Afghanistan's Natural Disaster Management Authority.

On Monday, January 13, residents of capital city Kabul struggled to go out as snow engulfed roads and temperatures hit -15 °C (5 °F).

Neighboring country India also suffers the impacts of the cold snap. In Sonmarag in the Ganderbal district, 5 civilians and 5 soldiers died in an avalanche in Kulan village.

As cold wave conditions persisted across the north, hilly areas saw snowfall and while several states received rainfall. Dense to very dense fog was observed in Bihar, Punjab, Chandigarh, Haryana, Delhi, eastern Uttar Pradesh and at isolated pockets in Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Odisha. Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh saw moderate fog.

According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), rain and thunderstorm are expected over Haryana, Chandigarh, and Delhi and Uttar Pradesh during January 16 and 17.

Featured image credit: Jonathan Griffith/Flickr

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