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Kashmir Avalanches Kill 16 Soldiers

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A Kashmiri villager carries vegetables on his shoulder as he walks home on a snow-covered path near Gagangeri, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Srinagar, India, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP)
A Kashmiri villager carries vegetables on his shoulder as he walks home on a snow-covered path near Gagangeri, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Srinagar, India, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP)

SRINAGAR, India -- Two massive avalanches in snowbound regions of Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 16 soldiers, and at least three others were feared trapped in a military camp that was partially buried under snow, an official said Thursday.

Col. K.S. Grewal said three of the soldiers were killed in the mountainous area of Sonamarg and 13 were killed at a large army camp in Dawar, a town close to the heavily militarized cease-fire line that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops are stationed along this de-facto border.

Both avalanches took place late Wednesday night, and state officials warned more may occur in mountain areas.

Rescue workers in Dawar pulled out 13 survivors who were being treated at a local army hospital, Grewal said. Three soldiers there were still believed to be trapped under the snow, he said.

Dawar, in the frontier Gurez region, remains cut off from the rest of Kashmir for nearly five months every year as heavy snowfall and rains block road links to the region.

Army rescue teams from other parts of the region were trying to reach the Dawar army camp but were delayed by heavy fog, snow and cloud cover, Grewal said.

Later Thursday, an army helicopter managed to airdrop a special team of the military rescuers and two sniffer dogs to help search, Grewal said.

At least 25 army vehicles and 17 barracks were damaged in the avalanche, said Amir Ali, a state government disaster management official.

Ali warned of more avalanches across mountainous parts of Indian Kashmir.

Another two state government officials, on duty in Sonamarg, were missing, Ali said.

Avalanches and landslides are common in the disputed Himalayan region. Last month, an avalanche killed seven soldiers as they were clearing an army supply road. In 2010, 17 soldiers died when a wall of snow and ice slammed into the army's High Altitude Warfare School in Kashmir.

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