A snowy avalanche in northern Pakistan killed 11 people Saturday (May 27), including a 4-year-old boy, and injured 25 from a nomadic tribe as they crossed a mountainous area with their goat herds, police said.
The avalanche struck the nomads in the Chambeli area of Shounter Pass that connects the Astore district of the Gilgit Baltistan region to the bordering Azad Kashmir region.
Four women and a 4-year-old boy were among the dead, said Gilgit Baltistan senior police officer Ziarat Ali.
The nomads were taking their herds of goats on foot from the Kel area of Azad Kashmir to Astore, when they were caught in the avalanche of snow in the early morning hours, Ali said. Tufail Mir, a deputy police chief in the region, said rescuers were facing problems in reaching the avalanche-hit area and troops were helping local authorities.
A rescue operation that included two military helicopters faced rough terrain and an altitude of some 14,000 feet (4,270 meters) above sea level. The bodies of the dead and injured were transported to ambulances 5 kilometers (3 miles) away, Ali said.
Local residents joined the rescue teams in recovering the victims, witnesses said.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in a statement expressed grief over the casualties and directed officials to provide the best possible medical treatment to the injured.
Chief Minister of Gilgit Baltistan, Khalid Khurshid, imposed a state of emergency in the hospitals of the main cities in the area, Gilgit and Skardu.
Gilgit Baltistan, sometimes referred to as the land of glaciers, has frequently seen avalanches and snow landslides in recent years due to climate change.
Rising temperatures are rapidly melting glaciers in Pakistan’s northern mountain ranges that have resulted in the formation of 3,044 glacial lakes in Gilgit Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, according to the United Nations.
Pakistan is one of the 10 countries that are at high risk of natural disasters due to climate change. The country faced flash floods in the summer of 2022 that killed over 1,700 people and affected 33 million.
Flooding and avalanches, climate experts say, are becoming common in Pakistan due to delayed snowfall in April instead of the previous climate pattern of December and January. The late phenomenon does not allow the layers of snow to get tightly packed and crystalized into solid glacial ice. Subsequently, the rising temperatures in May and June result in glacial melting.
Riaz Khan, The Associated Press