At least 11 people were killed and 12 others wounded in rain and snow-related incidents in two districts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on Monday, officials said.
Ten of the people died and all injuries occurred in different villages in the upper belt of Neelum valley, towards the northeast of Muzaffarabad.
The first casualty of the day was reported from Lawat Bala village when three of nearly a dozen children who were on their way to school were struck by a huge mass of snow, according to Superintendent of Police (SP) Asif Durrani.
Residents rushed to the scene and rescued all three children within a short time. However, the SP said, Laiba, 14, could not survive. The other two children – Mubashar and Salma – sustained injuries but were out of danger, he added.
In Kandyan Wala Bela village, an avalanche struck as many as six houses. Although more than 25 inhabitants managed to rush to safety, a woman and her two children were trapped in one of the houses and could not be recovered till late evening, said Akhtar Ayub, a disaster management officer based in district headquarters Athmuqam.
Rescue work had to be stopped as a second avalanche hit their house in the evening, Ayub said, adding that there were no chances of their survival. He identified the victims as Parveen Bibi, 35, Saima, 22, and Waqar, 14.
In Khorriyan Dudhniyal village, a house was struck by a glacier, trapping seven people inside. Neighbours managed to recover six of them alive while one of them died. The deceased was identified as 14-year-old Hafeez, and the injured were his parents Mushtaq Ashraf and Qasim Jan, siblings Salma Mushtaq, Saeed Mushtaq Waheed Mushtaq and Waheed’s wife Saima.
In Shaikh Bela village of Kel, Arif, 16, and Ashraf, 32, were killed in two separate incidents after being struck by snow masses, Ayub said.
Meanwhile, Rukhtaj Bibi, 24, and Mirza Khan, 45, were injured and recovered alive from beneath a mass of snow in Kharigam village, he added.
In Surgan Nullah area, Qadeer was killed in Bantal village and Marjan and Zakiya were killed in Surgan village after some six houses were struck by snow mounds, Ayub said, adding that Zakir and his sister Gulnar were recovered alive with multiple wounds.
According to the official, altogether at least 21 houses, four shops, one mosque and two vehicles suffered damage in the affected villages.
Elsewhere in AJK, a 17-year-old boy identified as Danish Majeed was killed in Neriyan village of district Sudhnoti after the wall of his mud-made house collapsed early morning on Monday.
Syed Shahid Mohyiddin Qadri, secretary relief, disaster and civil defence, told Dawn that heavy snowfall and rains had blocked several arteries in high altitude areas.
As of Monday, the Neelum valley road, Leepa valley road, Chikar to Bagh road, Bagh to Lasdana road, Mehmood Galli to Abbaspur road and Tain Dhalkot road were closed for all kinds of traffic, he said.
Qadri advised the public, particularly tourists, to avoid unnecessary travel in the snowbound and landslide-prone areas in the prevailing weather conditions.
He said a Special Emergency Desk (SED) had been set up in the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) under the supervision of a senior officer.
“All government officials have been advised to instantly share emergency incident reports with SED so that the SDMA can ensure swift response in close coordination and cooperation with the concerned departments,” he said.
Meanwhile, AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider directed the authorities to scale up their efforts to provide relief to the people affected by heavy rains and snowfall.
The SDMA should collaborate with the relevant departments and rush relief goods to the affected population, particularly in the remote areas, Haider said.
In line with his directives, a high-level meeting was convened by Chief Secretary Mathar Niaz Rana to review the latest situation and rescue and relief measures to follow.