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Avalanches, heavy snow kill 14 across Kashmir

March 12, 2014

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Unusually heavy snowfall has unleashed avalanches and collapsed homes in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, killing at least 14 people on both sides of the de-facto border between India and Pakistan, officials said.

Ten died in the Indian-controlled portion of the territory, police said, while Pakistan’s military reported another four dead in an avalanche on that side of the border.

On the Indian side, dozens were evacuated from high-risk areas Wednesday, after avalanches killed two Indian army soldiers camped in the Kargil region and another three Nepalese laborers working near the heavily militarized Line of Control.

Another five people were killed when dozens of homes crumpled under the weight of snow in the southern Kulgam and Shopian areas on the Indian-controlled side, police officer Imtiyaz Hussain said.

Pakistan’s military said an avalanche killed four soldiers late Tuesday near the northern district of Astore, while another 22 troops had been rescued after “heroic efforts” by the army.

Avalanches are common in the mountainous region, especially in spring when the air has more moisture and snow is heavier. But the region has seen an unusually heavy snowfall for March, with 2 ½ feet falling in the past three days, said Farooq Ahmed Khan of Indian Kashmir’s Meteorological Department.

The last similar late-season snowfall was in 2007, when about 2 feet fell during a short time in March.

“It’s definitely unprecedented to have such heavy snowfall in one single spell for three days,” Khan said.

The snow disrupted power and communication lines in Indian-held Kashmir, while cutting some areas off from the rest of India. Authorities issued a “high danger avalanche” warning in many parts of the region, government official Amir Ali said.

Avalanches have caused some of the heaviest tolls for the Indian and Pakistani armies camped near the de-facto frontier dividing their territories.

In 2012, a massive avalanche on the Pakistan-controlled part of the Siachen glacier killed 140 people, including 129 soldiers. That same year, a wave of snow also buried an Indian army camp and killed 16 soldiers in another place along the Line of Control.

Siachen is located on the northern tip of Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan and India and claimed by both in its entirety.

In 2010, another 17 Indian soldiers died when a wall of snow slammed into the army’s High Altitude Warfare School.

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