MUZAFFARABAD – Severe winter weather has claimed more lives as avalanches triggered by heavy snowfall killed 55 people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir while 15 died in neighboring Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday.
The latest deaths raise the two countries' overall death toll from the severe weather to 126 since Sunday.
The disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir was the worst-affected area, with 55 deaths in the past 24 hours, said Waseem Uddin, a spokesman for Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority.
Among those fatalities, 41 died in a single avalanche in the Neelum Valley while 14 people died in elsewhere in the region, he told The Associated Press. Avalanches are common in Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan and India and claimed by both in its entirety.
Earlier on Tuesday, Ahmad Raza Qadri, the minister for the disaster management authority in Kashmir, said they had declared a state of emergency in the affected areas. “Rescuers are facing difficulties in reaching the stricken villages," he said,
Military helicopters were being used to evacuate people as authorities struggle to reopen highways and reach people cut off by heavy snowfall and avalanches in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Also badly affected by heavy snowfall is Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province, where 20 people died, said Uddin, adding that some parts in the province was under six inches of snow. Twelve people were also killed in weather-related incidents in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province.
In Afghanistan, the State Ministry for Disaster Management confirmed at least 15 more deaths overnight, raising the death toll in weather-related incidents since Sunday to 39.
So far, about 300 houses have been damaged across Afghanistan because of snowfall, floods and landslides, the agency said. On Monday, residents of the Afghan capital, Kabul, where temperatures dropped to -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit), abandoned driving and struggled to get to work on snow-covered roads.
Faiez reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.