Source AP ©

Death toll from avalanches in northwestern Pakistan rises to 32, police say

The death toll from avalanches that hit Pakistan's isolated northwest increased to 32 after rescue workers found three more bodies in the rubble of destroyed homes, police said Monday.

The weekend avalanches struck Pakistan's rugged Chitral district, near the border with Afghanistan, where flooding and avalanches have killed at least 51 people over the past 10 days as the region has been hit by rains and snow.

One of the avalanches hit 18 homes in the village of Wasij. Police said Sunday residents and police rescuers had pulled out 24 bodies. Fourteen people were reported missing while six others were pulled out alive. In Postaki, another village, five members of a family were reported killed after an avalanche struck the family's home.

But the overall toll rose to 32 after rescuers dug out three more bodies, two in Wasij and one in Postaki, said Ijaz Ahmed, a senior police officer.

Twelve people were still missing in Wasij and feared dead, Ahmed said.

Another avalanche hit Olas village on Sunday and 11 people were missing, but Ahmed had no information on their fate.

Heavy rains and snow have been lashing Chitral, about 270 kilometers (167 miles) northwest of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, since late last week. In some areas, about 1.83 meters (six feet) of snow has fallen over the past several days, Ahmed said.

Two military helicopters were expected to arrive in Chitral later Monday to bring in medicines, food and blankets for avalanche victims, as bad weather prevented flights to the remote area the day before, Ahmed said. The helicopters will also evacuate injured people.

Relief efforts were likely to be hampered by blocked roads and broken down telephone lines. The main communication link for information from the avalanche-hit area is the police's radio network, Ahmed said on Sunday.

Chitral, in North West Frontier Province, is nestled in the Hindu Kush mountains that also stretch into Afghanistan.

In winter, heavy snow often blocks a mountain pass that connects Chitral's with rest of the country, leaving the isolated region heavily dependent on air transportation.

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