ISLAMABAD: Pakistani troops are set to dig a 130-foot tunnel in their search for 138 people buried in an avalanche in the Siachen sector, close to Indian borders, as the rescue operation entered its fifth day on Thursday with no signs of survivors.
Rescuers were focusing on six “priority points” at the army’s battalion headquarters in Gyari, which was hit by the avalanche on April 7.
“Work will start (on a) 130-foot-long horizontal tunnel with a diameter of three meters to attain access to the accommodation area,” the military said in a statement.
The rescue teams had earlier focused on five priority points and a sixth was added on Friday. The army on Friday also released photos of 94 of the 127 soldiers who were buried by the avalanche.
The military described the rescue operation at Gyari as “massive”, saying 15 heavy machines, including dumpers, bulldozers, excavators and loaders, were working at the site.
At one point, rescuers had excavated up to 115 feet and at another point, excavation work had gone down to 100 feet. A 450-metre access track had been developed and improved so that heavy vehicles could access the priority points, the statement said.
However, the military said the rescue operation was being hampered by “harsh and unfriendly” weather that is “posing operational and administrative difficulties for both men and machines”.
The rescuers have found no trace so far of the 127 soldiers and 11 civilian employees who were buried when the avalanche slammed into the battalion headquarters on April 7. Experts have said there are unlikely to be any survivors after the passage of five days since the incident.
The Meteorological Department on Friday predicted more snowfall in Siachen and experts said this could further affect the rescue operation. The met office had earlier said that the weather was expected to clear by Friday, raising hopes that more rescuers and equipment could be airlifted to the site. Over 450 personnel, most of them soldiers, are currently engaged in the rescue efforts.
The avalanche that hit the army camp has been described as the worst in 20 years. Almost one square kilometre was covered by snow and debris following the avalanche.
Photos released by the military showed bulldozers and rescuers working in an expanse of grey snow and ice, with no trace visible of the camp that had been the Northern Light Infantry’s headquarters. The photos also showed troops using sniffer dogs in their efforts to trace the buried men.
Indian and Pakistani troops have been engaged in standoff on the Siachen glacier since 1984. The guns have largely been silent since late 2003, when the two countries put in place a ceasefire along the frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir, and more troops have died due to the adverse weather than combat.