QUETTA / ISLAMABAD: Heavy snowfall and showers claimed at least 14 lives in different parts of Balochistan and suspended road and air links of the country’s largest province with rest of the world on Sunday, as the unusually extreme weather system entered Pakistan.
With a strong westerly wave affecting most parts of the country, snowfall is also expected in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir, besides heavy showers have been forecast for Islamabad as well as upper and central Punjab from Monday till Tuesday morning, according to the meteorological department.
Met officials said heavy snowfall in Quetta had already broken the 20-year record. “In Qilla Saifullah, the Met Office recorded three- to four-foot snow, which was [more than] double the usual one- to 1.5-foot snow,” said Chief Meteorologist Dr Azmat Hayat Khan.
An aircraft that had arrived from Saudi Arabia with passengers on Saturday night could not fly back, as Quetta airport runway remained covered with heavy snow, sources said.
Coming from KP, Sindh and Punjab, hundreds of passengers were stranded on different highways linking Balochistan. The Quetta-Karachi highway was blocked at Luck-Pass area, Quetta-Sibi highway was closed for traffic between Kolpur and Mach, as the area continued to receive heavy snowfall.
Official sources said traffic was also suspended at Quetta-Chaman highway as the Khozak-Pass linking Pakistan with Afghanistan also received heavy snowfall, bringing halt to the Afghan transit trade as hundreds of trucks and other goods vehicles remained standard on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border.
While the passengers stuck up in the Kan Mehtarzai area were rescued by army troops and Frontier Corps personnel who removed snow from the highway, many others coming from Dalbandin towards Mashkel were not as fortunate after heavy rainfall with flash floods hit most parts of Chagai district. Soon after receiving information through local WhatsApp groups, Levies Force and FC personnel rescued a few people but could not reached the point where a majority of them have been waiting for help since Saturday night.
Chagai Deputy Commissioner Fateh Khan Khajjak said their own vehicles were stranded when he along with Levies Force personnel reached the Kaachar area and rescued 13 people.
“Several people with their vehicles are still waiting for help but unfortunately those areas cannot be reached without helicopter. I have made a request for provision of the helicopter to the provincial disaster management authority. Hopefully, it would be provided to us as soon as possible,” Mr Khajjak said.
Around two dozen passengers, including women and children seated in four vehicles, were trapped in the far-flung area of Kaachar close to Pak-Iran border. Official sources said army and personnel of Frontier Corps were making efforts to rescue them.
They said army troops and FC personnel had reached many other areas badly affected by continuous heavy snowfall and started rescue and relief operation along with workers of the Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMA) and local administration. PDMA officials and workers also provided food, water and blankets to the passengers who were rescued.
The regional transport authorities and deputy commissioners of various districts have warned people against travelling on the Quetta-Karachi highway. They said roads were blocked at various points due to heavy snowfall in Kalat, Mastung, Surab, Zehri and many other areas.
The new spell of heavy snowfall that started on Saturday night in Quetta continued with small intervals in Ziarat, Kan Mehtarzai, Muslim Bagh, Sanjavi, Khanozai, Zhob, Qila Saifullah, Qila Abdullah, Kalat, Mastung, Harboi, Surab, Khuzdar and many other areas of northern Balochistan.
According to the reports reaching here in Quetta, due to continuous snowfall a large number of mud houses had collapsed or were damaged, claiming lives in the border town of Chaman, Barshor and Bostan area of Pishin district. Six people, including three women and three children, died and two others were injured when roof of their house collapsed in Shahabzai area of Zhob district due to heavy snowfall.
In Killi Luqman area near the Pak-Afghan border in Chaman, five members of a family, including women and children, died and six others were injured when the roof of a mud house collapsed during an engagement ceremony in the late evening hours. Two children died and two others suffered injuries when the roof of the room caved-in in Killi Chukal area of Pishin district, while another woman lost her life in a similar incident. Sources in Civil Hospital Quetta said that over a dozen people injured in snowfall-related traffic accidents were brought to the hospital for treatment.
Heavy rains were also reported in Makran division that fills up Mirani, Shadi Kur and Akra Kur, Sward and Bilar dams in Gwadar and Kech districts. Water level in the seasonal rivers of Dashat and Nehag as well as other small rivers had risen after the catchment areas of these rivers received heavy showers. “There is no sign of danger,” a senior official of the irrigation department Sher Jan Baloch claimed.
He said there were reports that a small dam was broken in the Mand area of Kech district, which damaged mud houses. However, he added, no human loss had been reported yet.
The spillways of the dams were opened to release floodwater after filling of all the dams in the area.
According to the Met Office, heavy rain in northwestern parts of Balochistan may continue to generate flash flooding in Turbat, Kech, Panjgur, Kalat, Quetta and Awaran districts. Quetta, Harnai, Ziarat, Qilla Abdullah and Pishin may also witness heavy snowfall on Monday.
When contacted, Chief Meteorologist Dr Azmat Hayat Khan said it was unusual pattern of weather due to global warming. He said the extreme weather system had produced heavy rainfall in the UAE and snowfall in Tabuq area of Saudi Arabia a few days ago. He said the extreme weather system could cause heavy showers and snowfall in Balochistan.
He said the winter season may be prolonged and more rains expected in March and April also. He said the minimum temperature during this whole period would remain low.
According to the Met Office, heavy rains may trigger landslides and avalanches in Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Malakand and Hazara districts. There is also the risk of road closures due to heavy snowfall and rains in the districts of Swat, Kohistan, Shangla, Buner, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Murree, Galyat, Neelum, Bagh, Haveli, Rawalakot, Astore, Hunza and Skardu.
Behram Baloch in Gwadar and Ali Raza Rind in Chagai also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2020