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Pak army identifies spots to look for avalanche survivors

April 10, 2012 18:01 IST

Racing against time to rescue 138 people, mostly soldiers buried in an avalanche in the Siachen sector, rescuers began digging five specific spots even as experts on Tuesday said there was little chance of finding any survivors.

"Five spots have been identified," near the army's battalion headquarters at Gyari, which was wiped out by a devastating snow slide on Saturday.

"Two points are being dug with equipment while three points are being dug manually," a military statement said as over 72 hours after the snow fury, rescuers were yet to come across any survivors or bodies.

The military said that over 450 people were involved in the relief efforts aided by two bulldozers, two heavy earth movers, three excavators and two dumpers.

The rescue operation was continuing "despite weather hazards" at Gyari, the location where the soldiers are buried up to 80 feet of snow.

First photographs released by the military of the site of avalanche showed no traces visible of the 6th Northern Light Infantry headquarters.

A seven-member team from the Strategic Plans Division was using "life detection kits and thermal imaging cameras" to try and locate the buried men.

Media reports said the rescue teams had removed 40 feet of snow and cleared a path to the buried camp. However, three rescue teams from the US, Germany and Switzerland were unable to fly to Skardu, the town closest to Gyari, due to bad weather.

Experts said the chances of finding any survivors Lt Gen (retired) Ayaz Ahmed, who commanded troops in the area, told the media that the temperature under the snow could be as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius.

"In such low temps, oedema will set in and the time for survival is (very) less," Ahmed said.

Ghulam Rasool, an expert on glaciers at the meteorology department, said the Gyari region was witnessing intermittent cloudiness and snowfall.

He said the weather was not expected to improve till April 12, when there would be a clear spell for a few hours in the afternoon. Rasool further said the weather in Skardu is expected to clear only on April 13 and flights to the town could be held up till then.

The military on Tuesday issued a revised list of the 138 people buried in the avalanche, including 127 soldiers and 11 civilian employees like waiters, barbers and a tailor.

Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had visited the site on Sunday to supervise rescue operations. The headquarters at Gyari is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their way to remote outposts in the Siachen sector.

Indian and Pakistani troops have been engaged in standoff on Siachen since 1984.

However, the guns have largely been silent since late 2003, when the two countries put in place a ceasefire along the frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir, including the Actual Ground Position Line in Siachen.

With soldiers deployed at heights of up to 20,000 feet at temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius, more troops on both sides have died due to adverse weather than combat on the world's highest and coldest battlefield.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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