(TibetanReview.net, Jan21’23) – The search and rescue operation at the avalanche-hit city of Nyingtri in Tibet had come to an end at 5:30pm on Jan 20 and a total of 28 people were found dead, with all the missing accounted for, reported China’s official Xinhua news agency and other news outlets Jan 20-21.
Most of the victims were local Tibetans heading home for the holidays, China’s official Global Times has said, citing a local villager.
Almost all the deaths were caused by hypothermia and a lack of oxygen, the scmp.com Jan 21 cited state broadcaster CCTV as saying.
The aljazeera.com Jan 20 cited rescue workers as saying vehicles were crushed under the weight of tonnes of snow and ice that collapsed at the mouth of the tunnel where the avalanche had occurred, trapping drivers in their vehicles.
“The snow was so deep, it was waist-high, and the road was very slippery. Many rescuers stumbled all the way there,” the paper cited a health centre employee as saying.
Nyingtri, which lies at an elevation of nearly 3,050 metres, is about five hours’ drive from Tibet’s capital Lhasa, along a highway that opened in 2018.
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The avalanche was stated to have occurred at around 7:50pm on Jan 17 on a section of the road between Phé Township in Mainling County and the exit of Doxong La tunnel in Metog County within Nyingtri City, with people and vehicles stranded.
It was not clear how many vehicles and people were hit outside or trapped in the tunnel by the avalanche. A previous Xinhua report said more than 50 people had been rescued, with five of them hospitalised with serious injuries.
The local government deployed 229 vehicles, 2,951 items of rescue equipment, and 256 professional rescue personnel, reported the official globaltimes.cn Jan 20.
Xinhua cited the emergency rescue headquarters for the incident as saying that more than 1,300 people, including firefighters, military units, grassroots officials and members of the public, took part in the search and rescue over the past few days.
Additionally, 53 guard posts were stated to have been set up, each equipped with telescopes, flashlights, walkie-talkies and other emergency equipment, to ensure the safety of search and rescue teams as secondary avalanches were possible.
Strong winds and unseasonably warm weather had triggered the snowslip in the steep slopes 4,500 metres (14,764 feet) above sea level, both Xinhua and CCTV had said, citing initial weather reports.