ISLAMABAD, April 7 (Xinhua) -- A total of 117 soldiers were buried under snow after a massive avalanche hit a military camp on Saturday in Pakistan's northern Siachen Glacier area, said an army spokesman.
In an exclusive interview with the state-run PTV, Major General Athar Abbas said that at about 6:00 a.m. local time, a huge avalanche, measuring one kilometer in length and 21 to 24 meters in height, hit an army camp located at the Gayari Sector of the Siachen Glacier, which is about 4,500 meters above the sea.
The army camp reportedly belongs to the Northern Light Infantry Regiment of the Pakistani army.
This is the worst avalanche that the Pakistani army has ever faced in the area in history, said the spokesman, adding that a total of 117 soldiers including a colonel were buried in the avalanche.
Earlier local media reports quoted different sources as saying that an estimated 130 to 150 soldiers were buried in the avalanche.
All the necessary machinery and equipment have been sent to the avalanche-hit area, said the army spokesman, adding that a total of 150 soldiers from the Engineering Corps of the Pakistani army and five army helicopters are involved in the rescue work.
Sniffing dogs are also used to find the victims, said the spokesman.
However, the spokesman did not say whether any victims have been found or not, nor did he mentioned the casualties in the avalanche.
Earlier local media said that dozens of bodies have been recovered from the avalanche-hit site. But these reports have not been confirmed by the army.
The army spokesman said that the remote region is a particularly difficult place to launch a rescue mission, but improving weather conditions are expected to help the operation.
Local meterological department said that the weather would remain clear in Siachen from Sunday to Monday and heavy snowfall would start in the area on Tuesday.
Over 15 hours have passed since the avalanche hit the army camp, the chance for the survival of the buried soldiers looks very slim taking into consideration the maximum temperature in the area is minus 50 degrees Celsius, local media quoted a retired army general as saying.
In a statement issued by his house, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani expressed shock at the loss of lives and trapping of Pakistani soldiers in the avalanche, saying that the incident in no way would undermine the high morale of soldiers and officers.
Gilani also asked the relevant authorities to keep him abreast of the ongoing rescue operation.
Located in the eastern Karakoram range in the Himalayas, just east of the Line of Control that divides Pakistan and India in the disputed Kashmir region, the 70-kilometer-long Siachen Glacier is the world's second longest glacier in the non-polar areas. It is also the world's highest battlefield. Soldiers have been deployed at elevations of up to 6,700 meters.
India and Pakistan both claim the area and have deployed thousands of troops there.
Pakistan says that India had occupied some parts of Siachen in the mid-1980s. Both sides had been involved in clashes in the region. But guns have been silent since a cease-fire went into effect in 2003. Siachen is one of the major issues in dialogue between the two countries. But there has been no progress as both sides are unwilling to budge from their positions.