At least 16 army persons including five officers were killed due to massive avalanches of snow on Wednesday night in two spots separated by 50 km near the line of control.
For the army this is the worst natural disaster since the winter of 2010-11, when 17 soldiers at the High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg were buried under snow.
Officials said at around 10 pm on Wednesday the army’s 109 Brigade came under an avalanche in Gurez, a valley at an altitude of 8,000 feet, 130 km northeast of Srinagar. The valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and remains cut off from the rest of Kashmir for five months every year as heavy snow blocks roads to the region.
“The avalanche was huge, more than a kilometre in length. Everything is under snow. It swept away men and machinery,” army spokesman colonel J.S. Brar told HT. “We have recovered 13 bodies and 13 jawans have been rescued. Three are still missing,” he said. “Three army men of the territorial unit were killed in a separate avalanche in Sonamarg (at 4.45 pm) and nine were rescued,” Brar said.
The official said among the dead were five junior commissioned officers.
Para-troopers on foot and the skies have mounted rescue operations. Close to the army unit is a village of 600 families in a plain area.
The 109 Brigade in Gurez was raised in 1990 immediately after insurgency broke out in the Kashmir valley.