By Abu Arqam Naqash
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Army helicopters flew rescue missions for the third day running in an avalanche-hit area of Pakistani-Kashmir as the death toll from the disaster rose to 77 on Thursday, officials said.
The latest victim of the avalanches in Neelum Valley, in the Himalayan region disputed by Pakistan and India, was a six-year-old girl, Safia, who died in hospital on Thursday.
Safia had been pulled out alive on Tuesday after being buried for close to 20 hours, a doctor, quoting the child's family, said. "She had suffered fractures in her skull and orbital bones and left leg and despite our best efforts died of her brain injuries," the doctor, Adnan Mehraj, told Reuters.
Safia's family were elated when she was found alive, her uncle, Naseer Ahmed told Reuters, but now relatives were in shock. Safia was the 19th member of the family to perish in the Neelum Valley avalances.
"I am not in my senses … We have lost almost everyone in the family from young kids to elderly members," said a visibly disturbed Ahmed.
"This extreme weather has played havoc with the lives of people living in high altitude mountains," Pakistani-Kashmir’s top administrative official, Mathar Niaz Rana, said.
"We are trying our best to alleviate their sufferings," he told Reuters as two helicopters were being loaded with relief supplies, including food and medicine, in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Meanwhile, in a separate area in Pakistan, further north, five personnel of the Pakistan army were killed when an avalanche hit them as they were carrying out rescue efforts, according to a senior official.
The five were from the engineer corps and helping clear roads covered by landslides in an area of Gilgit-Baltistan, a mountainous region that borders China. Avalanches in the area had earlier killed a woman and child, an official of the local disaster management authority, Farid Ahmed, said.
In total, 109 people have died across Pakistan in snow and landslide-related incidents over the last five days, including 20 deaths in the south-western province of Baluchistan.
(Writing by Gibran Peshimam, Editing by William Maclean)