January 10, 2006

Heavy snow expected in quake hit areas of Pakistan

NEW DELHI -- Over two million survivors of last year's South Asia earthquake, many living in tents, face heavy snow this week as unusually cold weather tightens its grip across much of Asia, weather officials said on Tuesday.

India and Bangladesh were also reeling under the cold snap -- with Dhaka reporting 23 weather-related deaths since Monday -- but it was the impact on Pakistan's devastated Himalayan region that was causing most concern.

There has also been several weeks of heavy snow in Japan, killing at least 70 people and injuring more than 1,000, many of them elderly.

China is also going through its most severe winter in 20 years, local reports have said.

In Pakistan, weather officials said the areas affected by October's quake that killed 74,000 people may be hit by an active westerly weather system that could bring heavy snow for several days starting this weekend.

They said the expected snow could be heavy enough to trigger landslides or avalanches in the mountains. Millions of people are still living in tents or in crude shelters.

The United Nations, helping organize a huge relief effort for quake survivors, said it was closely monitoring developments.

"That's our main concern," U.N. spokesman Ben Malor said. "That's what we're being vigilant about but we haven't had anything adverse from the high altitudes so far."

In Bangladesh, 56 people have now died from the cold this winter, officials and media reports said. The majority were poor and had been affected by exposure and cold-related diseases. Among them were the elderly and children.

The cold snap comes as many people were leaving cities and small towns to return to family villages to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha on Wednesday.

Ferries were standed on rivers due to heavy fog, while several flights were delayed or canceled in Dhaka.


In India, about 154 people have died due to the cold wave that has swept most of the country's northern states since the beginning of December, the Press Trust of India reported.

About 120 of the deaths have been reported from the populous state of Uttar Pradesh, though officials disputed the claim and said the official toll stood at just two, PTI said.

The city of Agra, home to the famed Taj Mahal, shivered as temperatures plummeted to 0 degree Celsius (32F) on Monday, rising to 1 degree on Tuesday, PTI said.

In the capital New Delhi, which saw its coldest winter morning in 70 years on Sunday when temperatures dipped to 0.2 degrees Celsius, the homeless huddled around pavement fires for warmth.

In mountainous Nepal, media reports said at least 12 people had died due to the cold over the past week. Across the country, schools remained closed and authorities provided free firewood to keep people warm, reports said.