Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rescuers may take days to reach trapped men

ISLAMABAD: It may take days before rescuers reach the 139 men trapped in a military complex buried under about 80 feet of snow, mud and rocks, in Gyari (Siachen), army officials said on Monday, as rescue teams dug two tunnels to reach them and international experts started reaching in Islamabad to assist them.

Bad weather was impeding the progress of the operation which started on Saturday morning soon after a massive avalanche had covered army’s battalion headquarters situated in a valley at the mouth of the region described as the world’s highest battlefield. The operation is said to have also been constrained by capacity issues because neither the army nor the civilian authorities were prepared to deal with such a disaster.

Met department’s forecast of more snow for the region in coming days meant more problems for the rescue work.

The rescue operation continued to build over the last couple of days and on Monday the army said it had fully deployed the available capacity to search and extract the trapped persons, who are mostly army regulars from 6th Northern Light Infantry.

The military is being supported by the National Disaster Management Authority and Gilgit-Baltistan’s Public Works Department.

About 240 rescuers, including engineers, aided by heavy machinery and sniffing are engaged in the operation.

By Monday evening they had dug two forty feet long and thirty feet wide tunnels that were so far only about 15 feet deep.

While hopes of finding any survivors are dwindling fast, the rescue effort is being joined by international teams of experts in high altitude disaster management.

A team of US military has already reached Islamabad from Afghanistan and held long discussions with Pakistani officials on the details of the operation as it awaited for flight to the site of the operation, which got delayed because of bad weather.

The team, a US source claimed, was sent on Pakistan’s request for help. Meanwhile, a Pakistani participant of the discussions said the US team had limited capacity to help. “As I understand they can only go up to 10 metres deep, while the buried complex is about 20 metres down,” he noted. Rescue specialists from Switzerland and Germany were expected to reach here on Tuesday morning. Offers for help have also come from the UK and Austria, the Foreign Office said. Dawn

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