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Central Asia Avalanches Cut Off 20,000 People

BISHKEK (Reuters) -- A series of avalanches across Central Asia has severed access to 20,000 villagers in Kyrgyzstan and killed at least three people in neighboring Tajikistan, emergency officials said today.

Avalanches occur frequently in the vast mountainous region wedged between China, Russia, Afghanistan, and Iran, but this year they have been particularly harmful due to heavy snow storms in winter months followed by an early spring.

The Emergencies Ministry in Kyrgyzstan said up to 20,000 people were cut off from the rest of the country after a wave of avalanches swept through a high-altitude valley near Kyrgyzstan's border with China.

"We are trying to clear the roads but the avalanches keep coming down so we are unable to restore access [to the valley]," said Abdisamat Payazov, a Kyrgyz Emergencies Ministry spokesman.

He said there were no immediate reports of casualties, adding the ministry was assessing the extent of possible damage.

Separately, the Emergencies Ministry in neighboring Tajikistan said an abrupt rise in spring temperatures triggered a string of avalanches this week in the Pamir mountains near the country's border with Afghanistan, killing three people.