Day 4: Rains, snow keep highway blocked

By Muzamil Mattoo/ Shafat Mir   
Srinagar/Banihal: Several parts of Kashmir received fresh snowfall on Friday and the Met department forecast “fairly widespread” light to moderate rainfall and snowfall in both the higher reaches and the valley in the next 24 hours.
Srinagar city recorded 4.5mm of rain and snow.
“On Friday, Pahalgam recorded 3.6mm of snow, Qazigund 21.4mm rain and 5 inches of snow, Kukarnar 7cm of snow, Gulmarg 2 inches of snow, Banihal 30.88mm of rain and 6 inches of snow, Kupwara 0.6mm of rain, and Shopian one feet of snow and more in upper reaches,” Met officials said.
They said that the weather is likely to improve after 24 hours and may remain dry for the next few days.
The continuous snow and rainfall disturbed air traffic till afternoon. “Four flights were cancelled in morning but other 16 flights were scheduled on time and took off successfully,” said Manzoor Ahmad, SP Srinagar Airport.
The Jammu-Srinagar highway, though, remained closed for the third consecutive day. Superintendent of Police (Traffic) Sanjay Bhagat said that the national highway was closed due to landslides and shooting stones at many places, especially in Jammu’s Ramban sector, Ramsu and Panthal.
“No vehicle was allowed on Srinagar-Jammu national highway but the vehicles which were stranded from yesterday were cleared,” Bhagat said. “We will restore the traffic as soon as possible as we are clearing the road. In case the weather will be favourable for travelling and if the road will be fully cleared, we will allow traffic from Srinagar to Jammu,” Bhagat said.
Hundreds of trucks remained stranded on the Qazigund side of the Jawahar Tunnel. A truck driver, Samandeep Singh, said, “I and several hundred drivers are stuck at Lowermunda Qazigund since Wednesday. It is very difficult to find anything for food as shops are shut against the killings of local militants. The temperature, too, has dipped and we don’t have any adequate clothes or blankets.”
Qazigund area has been receiving intermittent snowfall since Wednesday evening, leading to accumulation of some five to six inches of snow on the road.
On the Banihal side of the Jawahar Tunnel, more than three feet of snow has accumulated. Many stranded passengers on either side of the tunnel were seen travelling on foot, amid heavy snowfall, to reach their destinations.
A Sumo taxi driver, Danish Ahmed, who lives in Banihal town, said, “On Thursday morning I somehow reached up to Qazigund along with my passengers, who were unable to board the train due to suspension of train services. After dropping them at Qazigund, the police didn’t allow me and another Sumo driver to turn back to Banihal. We waited overnight for the weather to improve but today morning we were forced to return on foot as there was no point in waiting at Qazigund. We left our vehicles parked there and in the last three hours we have managed to cover this distance.”
Shakoor Ahmed, a local from Batengoo village of Anantnag, accompanied by a group of ten men at Jawahar Tunnel, said, “I am coming from Banihal where we were stuck for two days. We were out of money and thought it was better to head towards home on foot as the weather isn’t getting normal anytime soon. We have been travelling on foot for three hours despite heavy snowfall and it will take us three more hours to reach Qazigund. Hopefully, there we would find some commute up to Khanabal.”
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has deployed men and machinery to clear the stretch from Wuzur Qazigund to outer Banihal in its jurisdiction.
BRO officer in charge of Jawahar Tunnel, Deepak Choubay, said, ”We have been clearing the route under our jurisdiction every second hour. Due to intense snowfall, the route is getting covered with snow instantly, but our men are keeping it motorable 24/7. It is up to traffic police to let any vehicles pass or not.”
Officials of the traffic department said at the time this report was filed, “Due to landslides at Seeri Ramban, the traffic will remain suspended until further orders. The clearance work is still in progress.”
Divisional Administration Kashmir  Friday  issued a fresh avalanche warning for next 24-hours for hilly and avalanche prone areas of Kashmir Valley and Kargil district.
“High danger avalanche warning valid for next 24-hours from March 10 to March 11, 2017 (1700 hrs) exists for avalanche prone slopes of Kupwara and Bandipora districts of Kashmir Division.
“While as medium danger avalanche warning exists for avalanche  prone slopes of Anantnag, Baramulla, Ganderbal, Kulgam, Budgam and Kargil districts” a statement of the Divisional Administration said.
Accordingly, all concerned Deputy Commissioners have been asked to take precautionary measures in their respective districts and advise people not to venture in avalanche prone areas during the aforementioned period and monitor the situation regularly to avert any untoward incident.