135 Buried in Avalanche in Northern Pakistan
    2012-04-07 14:47:48     Xinhua       Web Editor: Zhangxu

Related: Pakistani PM Shocked at Avalanche Trapping Army Personnel

As many as 135 people including 124 soldiers and 11 civilians were buried when a huge avalanche hit an army camp in Pakistan's northern Siachen Glacier area early on Saturday, according to an army statement.

The statement released late Saturday night by the Inter- Services Public Relations (ISPR), a mouthpiece of the Pakistani army, said the soldiers belong to 6 Northern Light Infantry Battalion stationed in the Gayari sector near Skardu in the disputed Kashmir region.

"This battalion headquarters is situated at same place for last 20 years and no incident of this nature has happened," said the statement, adding that the snow slide is covering an area of 1 square kilometer.

"Immediately after the incident rescue efforts went in on," it said, adding that sniffing dogs, helicopters and troops have been employed in the rescue operation.

Heavy engineering machinery have been airlifted to the avalanche-hit area from Rawalpindi, it said.

Earlier, army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told the state-run PTV that 117 soldiers were buried under snow when the avalanche measuring one kilometer in length and 21 to 24 meters in height hit the army camp at about 6:00 a.m. local time on Saturday.

He said that some 150 soldiers from the Engineering Corps of the Pakistani army and five army helicopters are involved in the rescue operation.

The army spokesman said that the remote region is a particularly difficult place to launch a rescue mission, but improving weather conditions are expected to help the operation.

Local meteorological department said that the weather would remain clear in Siachen from Sunday to Monday and heavy snowfall would start in the area on Tuesday.

Almost 18 hours have passed since the avalanche hit the army camp about 4,500 meters above the sea, and the chance for the survival of the buried soldiers looks very slim taking into consideration the minimum temperature in the area is minus 50 degrees Celsius, local media quoted a retired army general as saying.

Both the army spokesman and the army statement have remained tight-lipped about the casualties in the disaster. But some local media said that dozens of bodies have been recovered from the site.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani expressed shock at the loss of lives and trapping of Pakistani soldiers in the avalanche, saying that the incident in no way would undermine the high morale of soldiers and officers.

Gilani also asked the authorities concerned to keep him abreast of the ongoing rescue operation.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari later also expressed shock over the incident and directed the authorities concerned to expedite the rescue operation to save the army men and officials trapped under the snow.

Located in the eastern Karakoram range in the Himalayas, just east of the Line of Control that divides Pakistan and India in the disputed Kashmir region, the 70-kilometer-long Siachen Glacier is the world's second longest glacier in the non-polar areas. It is also the world's highest battlefield. Soldiers have been deployed at elevations of up to 6,700 meters.

India and Pakistan both claim the area and have deployed thousands of troops there.

Pakistan says that India had occupied some parts of Siachen in the mid-1980s. Both sides had been involved in clashes in the region. But guns have been silent since a cease-fire went into effect in 2003. Siachen is one of the major issues in dialogue between the two countries. But there has been no progress as both sides are unwilling to budge from their positions.

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