Rescuers battle to reach Afghan avalanche victims



Afghan shopkeepers shovel snow off their roof in Kabul February 5. Three days of snowfall killed more than 100 people, mostly in Nuristan Province. [WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP]

KABUL -- Rescuers battled Monday (February 6) to reach avalanche survivors in Afghanistan's mountainous north, as the death toll topped 100 and fears grew for dozens still believed trapped beneath the snow.

The series of avalanches over the weekend struck after three days of heavy snow, destroying dozens of homes and killing people and livestock mostly in central and northern provinces.

Unusually, snow even fell in Kandahar Province.

Aid is being delivered by helicopter to worst-hit Nuristan Province, where at least 64 people have been killed -- including 53 in one village, provincial Governor Hafiz Abdul Qayyom told AFP.

No word has come from some villages in the province, where almost 3 metres of snow fell, according to Qayyom, with blocked roads and mountainous terrain slowing the rescue effort.

The snowfall blocked roads and killed at least 19 people, including two children, in neighbouring Badakhshan Province, provincial governor's spokesman Naweed Ahmad Froutan said.

"Several dozens are still trapped; we are trying to rescue them," he said, adding that relief workers were struggling to come by helicopter.

Bad weather and deep snow are hampering efforts of rescue workers to reach the isolated villages, raising fears the toll could rise sharply, according to officials.

At least 137 deaths, more expected

Updated reports from Nuristan and Badakhshan brought the number of deaths across the country to at least 137 Monday, though authorities were due to update the figures later.

At least 54 people were killed elsewhere in northern and central Afghanistan, where massive avalanches destroyed 168 houses and killed hundreds of cattle, officials said.

Avalanches killed five people in Balkhab District, Sar-e-Pul Province, said provincial government spokesman Zabiullah Amani.

"The roads to Balkhab are still blocked," he said.

Freezing weather killed at least two people in Badghis Province.

In Parwan Province, just north of Kabul, 16 people died, governor's spokesman Abdul Wahid Sediqqi said.

The government declared Sunday to be a public holiday to deter non-essential travel and to keep schools closed.

Deadly winter avalanches are common in Afghanistan's mountainous areas, where rescue equipment is lacking.

In January heavy snowfall and freezing weather killed 27 children, all under the age of five, in Jawzjan Province in northern Afghanistan.

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