FOCUS Pakistan warns of more avalanches, landslides, as search operation continues in Susoom, Chitral

Islamabad, March 22: (PR) Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS) Pakistan, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network, has embarked on an elaborate search and rescue operation in response to an avalanche in Susoom village of Karimabad Valley, Chitral. FOCUS Pakistan’s Search And Rescue Team (SART) in collaboration with the volunteers are involved in the search operations.

The massive avalanche that struck the Susoom village of Karimabad Valley, Chitral on 19th March followed after 48 hours of continuous snowfall and rain trapping nine people including eight students who were returning to their homes. Over the past few days, FOCUS Pakistan alerted local communities through trained Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs), general announcements and local radio network on the risk of avalanches.

According to Mir Aslam, a local resident and captain of the local CERT, rain and dark clouds drastically effected visibility making it difficult to see people crossing avalanche zones. “Four to five lives were saved as they responded to announcements advising that they do not travel through the route during that time,” he said.

Unfortunately, the nine people affected by the avalanche were outside the village traveling back to their home at the time. “We have been involved in the rescue operations since the incident and efforts are being made to locate those under the avalanche,” said Wali Mohammad Khan, the team leader of SART. “However, given the scale of the avalanche, utilizing manual tools is challenging. The avalanche is a slab type avalanche and a combination of snow, boulders, rock and mud making access a challenge.”

As part of FOCUS Pakistan’s winter preparations, which began in August 2015, over 159 villages in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral were classified as avalanche prone. Qualified trainers provided education to at-risk households in these villages. According to Nusrat Nasab, Executive Officer, FOCUS Pakistan, “about 50 weather monitoring posts have been created to anticipate risks based on local weather as well as means of communication were improved in about 35 villages. In addition, pre-positioning of basic emergency response stockpiles were ensured in all these villages as well as early warning to people through radio announcements and distribution of posters.”

While the rescue operations continue, FOCUS Pakistan has issued an alert for landslides and more snow slips in the next 36 hours.

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