The Jammu-Srinagar national highway was opened for one-way traffic on Sunday, a day after being closed due to heavy snowfall and landslides, and over 700 stranded commuters were rescued overnight from the Jawahar tunnel area, officials said.
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The only all-weather road linking the Kashmir Valley with the rest of the country, was opened for traffic coming from Srinagar to Jammu after nine hours of clearance operations, they said.
The operation along the Jawahar tunnel, and Qazigund and Banihal-Ramban stretches was launched around 5 am on Sunday, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Ramban, Anita Sharma, told PTI.
It took almost nine hours for workers to clear the road for one-way traffic, she said.
In a major overnight rescue operation, over 700 stranded passengers were evacuated from both sides of the Jawahar tunnel, a police spokesman said.
The SSP said they were Jammu-bound commuters and were rescued from the Kashmir-side of the tunnel and the Verinag Zing area, where more than one-feet of snow had accumulated.
"In the night-long operation, police evacuated 700 stranded passengers from the Jawahar tunnel area. Passengers stranded at either side (of the tunnel) were evacuated," the spokesman said.
The evacuated people, including tourists, were accommodated in shelter sheds, religious places and sarais in Banihal's Nowgam and Gund areas, and in Qazigund, he said.
In addition, 1,000 civilians, who were stuck in other parts of the highway, were also provided food and shelter in Banihal by police and the civil administration, the spokesman said.
The SSP said stranded passengers, who were evacuated from the Jawahar tunnel area and brought to Banihal late on Saturday night, were allowed to move towards Jammu on Sunday.
Snow clearance operations are still underway at some areas of the highway, Sharma said.
The 270-km highway was closed for vehicular traffic Saturday evening after heavy snowfall in Qazigund-Jawahar tunnel sector coupled with landslides at Pantiyal, Ramsoo, Digdol and Battery Cheshma along the Banihal-Ramban stretch due to incessant rains.
The police spokesman said 28 more passengers, including two truck drivers, were rescued from Drass and Ganderbal along 434-km Srinagar-Leh national highway and shifted to safer places.
"Some stranded tourists were evacuated by police from the snow bound areas of Cheeni Wuder in Anantnag and Gulmarg in Baramulla districts," he said.
The officials said snow clearance operations have also started along the Mughal road, connecting the twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu with south Kashmir's Shopian district.
They said about four-feet of snow had accumulated on the ground in Peer Ki Gali area over the past couple of days. Over 120 people, mostly truckers, were rescued after they got stranded in the high-altitude area on Saturday, the officials said.
"The snow clearance operation was started Sunday afternoon following improvement in the weather. We are on the job and efforts are on to ensure early restoration of the road which usually remains closed during winter owing to heavy snowfall in Peer Ki Gali area," Deputy Superintendent of Police (traffic) Mohammad Rafiq said.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik Sunday took stock of the situation arising due to heavy snowfall and ordered immediate restoration of essential services such as road connectivity and electricity in the affected areas.
Malik directed the administration to expedite efforts to mitigate difficulties of people and meet their requirements in view of the inclement weather conditions, an official spokesman said.
Regarding restoration of road connectivity, the governor was told that all inter-district roads have been restored and the Srinagar-Jammu highway has been opened, he said.
Malik has also asked the principal secretary finance to make adequate funds available the power and public works departments for replacement of damaged transformers and snow clearance operations respectively, the spokesman said.
The governor also directed evacuation of all passengers stranded on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, the Mughal road and other major arterial links in the state, he said.
Surface and air links between the Kashmir Valley and rest of the country were snapped Saturday while Srinagar witnessed snowfall in November for the first time since 2009.
"In the last two decades, it was only the fourth time that it has snowed in Srinagar in November with 2009, 2008 and 2004 being the earlier instances," an official of the MeT Department had said.
Apple crop worth crores of rupees have been damaged in Kashmir due to early snowfall, officials said on Sunday.
Political leaders have extended support to the farmers and asked the state government to take up assessment of losses and compensation for the ryots.
A large number of fruit-laden apple trees in Kashmir have either been uprooted or their stems have broken due to heavy snowfall on Saturday, a horticulture department official said.
The worst affected orchards are in Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian, Bandipora and parts of Baramulla districts, the official said.
Orchardists are demanding the government to set up teams for assessment of losses and compensation be provided to them.
Record-breaking snowfall has thrown life out of gear in Doda and adjoining districts in Chenab Valley with farmers and orchardists fearing huge financial losses.
The local meteorological department has figures for only 20 years after its establishment and such a heavy snowfall in the first week of November had happened for the first time in the past two decades, meteorologist Ramesh Sharma told PTI.
Locals claim such a heavy snowfall has happened in the areas after more than four decades, catching them unprepared for the ensuing winter.
The snowfall in the inhabited areas, ranging from three inches to over three feet, was recorded in different areas of the district, forcing closure of Bhadarwah-Basohli highway, Kishtwar-Sinthan Top road and Bhadarwah-Chamba interstate road while many far-flung areas got cut-off, officials said.