Xinjiang avalanche leaves 1,000 tourists stranded in China

Approximately 1,000 tourists find themselves marooned in a secluded holiday village in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region as avalanches, accompanied by meters of snow and unpredictable weather, hinder evacuation efforts, as reported by state TV on Tuesday.

Hemu village, nestled near the borders of Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia, has been isolated by avalanches blocking road access for several days. The village in Xinjiang’s Altay Prefecture has experienced persistent snowfall in certain areas for the past 10 days.

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.

Snow brought by the avalanches reached as high as 7 meters (22.97 feet) in some parts and, in many, was higher than snow clearing equipment, CCTV said.

Work to clear the 50-kilometer (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 toward a river valley, rendering rotary snowplow vehicles useless. Rescuers have resorted to shovels and excavators.

As weather changes rapidly in the mountainous area, the windows for operating supply missions have also narrowed. 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 had organized 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 4 kilometers of road affected by the avalanche.

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