At least five people were killed and another five were missing after an avalanche hit Khardung La in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ladakh region on Friday morning. The authorities and the Army launched a rescue operation for the missing civilians.
Leh Deputy Commissioner Avny Lavasa told The Indian Express that preliminary information revealed that the people who died were involved in digging work in the area. “The digging done by them triggered a snow slide in the area and these workers got buried under the snow,” she said, adding that they received information about the incident at around 7 am.
All the victims were residents of Zanskar sub-district.
State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) Deputy Superintendent of Police Sonam Dorjay said adverse weather conditions were making it difficult to carry out the rescue operation. “The temperature is -25 C and we are facing it difficulties to carry out the rescue operation,” he said.
A senior official said that the rescue operation was put on hold on Friday evening and would resume on Saturday morning.
A defence spokesperson in Srinagar said two civilian trucks and 10 civilians were buried under snow of approx 20 feet depth. The spokesperson said avalanche panthers teams – highly trained teams that specialise in avalanche rescue operations – had been deployed from Siachen base camp.
“Army teams deployed near the incident site swiftly moved and commenced the search and rescue operations. Army aviation helicopters were also used to move deep search radars which can detect human beings through snow,” the spokesperson said.
Former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti condoled the deaths. “Saddened to hear about the loss of lives because of the avalanche in Khardungla, Ladakh. Prayers for the families of the departed,” she tweeted. National Conference leaders too have condoled the deaths.
Governor Satya Pal Malik has announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 5 lakh for the next of the kin of those killed.
On Thursday, authorities had issued a weather advisory, according to which moderate to heavy snow and rain is expected from January 19 to 25 at widespread places of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions.