No trace of Pak soldiers 5 days after avalanche

Islamabad: Five days after a huge avalanche buried their camp in high mountains of the Karakoram range, army rescuers are yet to find any trace or bodies of 138 people missing in the calamity, mostly soldiers.

Fresh snowfall and plunging temperatures are hampering the rescue efforts, as over 500 army personnel using bulldozers and heavy snow clearance machinery cleared a 450-metre access track to the site.

The rescuers have mapped out five "priority points", believing that the missing personnel of the 6th Northern Light Infantry manning the battalion headquarters could be buried there, a military statement said.

The areas have been mapped out by the Strategic Plans Division, an elite nuclear formation equipped with sophisticated gadgets, even as experts said there was little chance of finding any survivors. The rescue operation at Gyari in Siachen sector was continuing despite "weather hazards", the statement said.

Rescue teams were working on a second access track so that they could widen the search perimeter. Work at two priority points is progressing at "rapid speed" because of the use of heavy machinery. Work at the three other priority points is "mainly being done" by infantry troops, who are manually digging through the snow, the military said.

A bulldozer was being used to restore a water channel that was blocked by the avalanche four days ago. The Met Office has forcast snowfall over Siachen and surrounding areas till tomorrow and officials have said they expect the weather to clear by the afternoon of Thursday.

Flights to Skardu, the town closest to Gyari, have been unable to take off due to bad weather. The calamity site is surrounded by some of the world`s highest peaks and lies close to the de-facto border with India. Satellite photographs show no trace of the army battalion headquarters with the entire area engulfed by grey snow.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had to call off his plan to visit Gyari yesterday due to bad weather, officials said. The premier had intended to visit the region to express solidarity with the troops. He was advised by authorities not to travel due to the inclement weather, officials said.

Gilani has directed authorities to use all available resources to retrieve the soldiers trapped by the avalanche on April 7. The military has said a total of 138 people, including 127 soldiers and 11 civilian employees, were buried when the avalanche hit a battalion headquarters at Gyari.