x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pakistani rescuers fail to find avalanche victims - dead or alive

Hundreds of Pakistani rescuers, backed by helicopters and sniffer dogs, searched a mountain of snow, sand and mud for the second day for 135 people, mostly soldiers, missing after an avalanche struck a military complex along the Indian border.

ISLAMABAD // Hundreds of Pakistani rescuers, backed by helicopters and sniffer dogs, searched a mountain of snow, sand and mud for the second day yesterday for 135 people, mostly soldiers, missing after an avalanche struck a military complex along the Indian border.

But more than 36 hours after the avalanche hit the military base at the Gayari sector of the Siachen glacier, described as the world's highest battlefield, the rescuers had been unable to find anyone - dead or alive.

"All resources are being used in the rescue operation but so far there has been no progress," a military spokesman, Brigadier Atiq-ur-Rehman, said yesterday.

The military said 135 people, including 124 soldiers from the Northern Light Infantry - which is made up of residents of the Gilgit-Baltistan province - were buried alive when the avalanche hit an area of one square kilometre early on Saturday. The military issued the list of names of people buried under the avalanche. They included a tailor, two hairdressers and three cooks.

"This battalion headquarter is situated at same place for last 20 years and no incident of this nature has happened," the military said in a statement.

"I fail to understand how has it happened because this base was built at a place where there was almost no chance that an avalanche will fall. It was a very safe place," a military officer who served in the area in 2007-2008 said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media.

"It was quite a wide area and it had a cricket ground where we used to play cricket. It was an unfortunate incident," he said.

Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, visited the site of the avalanche yesterday to monitor rescue activities. He said it was an "unprecedented" incident.

"[The] calamity in no way should affect the morale of the troops defending the motherland at the highest battlefield," the military quoted him as saying in a statement.

"Pakistan army has always risen to the occasion and will come through this challenge as well."

Gen Kayani said the army was mobilising all resources with the help of the air force to carry out a full-scale rescue operation.

The United States expressed concern over the incident and offered help to Pakistan in search, rescue, and recovery operations, according to a statement by the US Embassy

Siachen is in the northern part of Kashmir, the core of the dispute and cause of two of the three wars between Pakistan and India since their independence from British rule in 1947.

Both countries have held several rounds of talks to demilitarise the Siachen but have failed to do so because neither side wants to take first step. There are a combined 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers from Pakistan and India deployed in the area.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae