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Central Asia Struck By Severe Weather, Earthquakes

  • Bruce Pannier

The mountains of Tajikistan (file photo) (ITAR-TASS) PRAGUE, 28 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- From Inner Mongolia to Afghanistan nature was making life difficult for the people of inner Asia. Freezing temperatures, heavy snow, and earthquakes have damaged buildings, blocked roads and killed several people.


Kyrgyzstan has declared a state of emergency in many regions of the country after three days of heavy snow left at least four people dead and blocked the country's main highway connecting the capital, Bishkek, to southern areas of the country.


Abibilla Pazylov, the press secretary for Kyrgyzstan's Ecology and Emergency Situations Ministry, said several people were killed in an avalanche near the southern district of Karakulja in Osh region.


No Hunting, Chopping Wood


"Unfortunately, the first snowfall caused an avalanche that killed people in the village of Sary-Be in the Kara-Kulja district," Pazylov said on 28 January. "We heard that four people died there. According to preliminay information four died and one was still missing and we are searching for that missing person now.”


The ministry advised residents of remote mountainous villages to refrain for several days from hunting or engaging in activities that would make loud noise, such as chopping wood, in the gorge areas because of the danger of avalanches.


Bishkek fire fighter Ulan Kulmyrzayev told RFE/RL that the capital’s fire department is practically shut down due to freezing temperatures.


Fire Engines Sidelined


"Since the start of winter we have had problems. In the garages where we keep our fire engines the temperature has dropped well below freezing," Kulmyrzayev said. "The water doesn’t flow out of the machines well. Two or three times we have to try to unfreeze the water but [at best] it only comes out slowly. People working on the machines are covered in water and come out soaking wet. There is no where to dry out clothing because there is no heat anywhere, the radiators don’t work, they are broken from the pipes freezing. One after another breaks down and if this continues all the radiators will break and next year we won’t have any of them working.”


In Tajikistan, more than 100 avalanches hit the Pamir Mountains area in the last 24 hours, leaving at least one person dead, and blocking all roads leading to the southeastern Khorog region.


Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Makhmadullo Khalimov described the avalanches as "gigantic," and said they dumped more than a meter of snow on roads and buildings in the eastern part of the country.


Snow-Removal Equipment Shortage


Dustmurod Zabirov, the Emergency Situations Ministry press secretary, said needed equipment was rushed to the scene to clear the roads but continued snowfall was hampering the work.


"All the equipment has been brought to the blocked roads," Zabirov said. "However, it is impossible to start cleaning work due to continuing snowfall and avalanches. It is still snowing heavily.”


Uzbek authorities said an avalanche near the strategic Kamchik pass has blocked the road connecting most of Uzbekistan to the Fergana Valley area.


Severe Weather In Afghanistan


Bad weather was affecting areas even further south. Weather in Afghanistan was so bad today that a plane carrying some 260 pilgrims back from making the Hajj in Saudi Arabia had to be re-routed to neighboring Pakistan.


Mohammed Ismail Mayar, the head of Afghanistan’s Ariana Airlines office in neighboring Peshawar, told RFE/RL today that bad weather as far south as Kabul was preventing airplanes from landing in the Afghan capital.


"You can call Kabul now there is even not 1 kilometer’s visibility for a plane to touch down," Mayar said. "Even as you are calling now the snow continues and all our planes remain at the airport."


In China’s Inner Mongolia region, officials said blizzards this week killed thousands of livestock and threatened millions more with starvation. The state-owned Xinhua news agency reported that in the city of Ordos some 40,000 livestock died of the cold and that supplies of food and water had been cut off. Xinhua said a further 3.3 million livestock, mostly cattle and sheep, were at risk.


And Earthquakes Too


Tremors were also complicating life in Central Asia this month.


Another Tajik deputy emergency situations minister, Abdurakhim Rajabov, said earthquakes during January damaged more than 480 homes and completely destroyed 95 other houses in the Baljuvan district, east of Dushanbe.


Zabirov of the Emergency Situations Ministry said there were still problems in alleviating that problem but that international organizations were helping people in the affected areas.


"You can still feel tremors.," Zabirov said. "The charity group Merlin has sent first aid -- medicines -- to the affected area. Other international humanitarian agencies are planning to send aid to the area on [30 January].”


Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Ecology and Emergency Situations also reported a magnitude five earthquake hit the country's southern Alai region earlier today.


(RFE/RL's Afghan, Kyrgyz, and Tajik services contributed to this report.)

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