About 1,000 tourists trapped in China's Xinjiang after avalanches

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - BEIJING, Jan 16 ― Around 1,000 tourists remain stranded in a remote holiday village after avalanches hit China's northwestern Xinjiang region with metres-high snow and fickle weather impeding evacuation, state TV reported today.

Road access to Hemu village, a scenic destination near the borders of Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia where the tourists were trapped, has been cut off by avalanches for several days now. The village is situated in Xinjiang's Altay Prefecture where continuous snowfall in some areas has lasted 10 days, it said.

The heavy snowfall triggered dozens of avalanches along large sections of highways in the Altay mountains leading to the Kanas scenic area, and some tourists were lifted by helicopter to safety, Chinese state media outlets reported over the weekend.

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Snow brought by the avalanches reach as high as seven metres in some parts and in many, was higher than snow clearing equipment, CCTV said.

Work to clear the 50-km (31-mile) stretch of buried road started a week ago.

Complicating the rescue and snow removal work were rocks, debris and tree branches mixed in the snow, broken off as avalanches gushed down pine and birch forest slopes towards a river valley, rendering rotary snowplow vehicles useless. Rescuers have resorted to shovels and excavators.

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As weather changes rapidly in the mountainous area, the windows for operating supply missions have been narrow too. A military helicopter scheduled to send supplies ― such as flour and fuel ― to Hemu village was delayed on Tuesday morning, CCTV said.

The highway management authorities in Altay said they have organised 53 personnel and 31 sets of machinery and equipment for the rescue and relief work.

“This avalanche situation is relatively special, we have seen such heavy snowfall before, but we have not seen such high frequency of avalanches,” the head of the highway management bureau, Zhao Jinsheng, told CCTV.

Zhao said he expected snow clearing work to restore access to Hemu village to continue for some time due to the large volume of snow on the last four kilometres (2.5 miles) of road affected by the avalanche. ― Reuters

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