(Al Jazeera) Twenty people have been confirmed dead and eight remain missing following an avalanche in Tibet that buried multiple vehicles in deep snow and ice on a section of road connected to a highway tunnel.
Images on Chinese state media on Friday showed rescue workers digging with mechanical diggers in deep snow to locate vehicles that were buried when the avalanche hit a road and highway tunnel connecting the city of Nyingchi in Tibet’s southwest with outlying Medog county.
As of Friday, 20 people were reported to have died and eight are still missing, according to the state-run Global Times news outlet. A further 53 people have been rescued so far since the avalanche which took place at about 8pm (12:00 GMT) on Tuesday on a section of road between Pai village in Mainling county and the Doxong La tunnel in Medog county, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported. Five of the survivors were seriously injured, it reported.
A local villager told Global Times that most of those travelling on the road at the time of the accident were Tibetan people returning to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, which starts on Sunday.
Rescue workers reported that vehicles were crushed under the weight of tonnes of snow and ice that collapsed at the mouth of the tunnel, trapping drivers in their vehicles.
Nyingchi lies at an elevation of about 3,040 metres (9,974 feet) and is located about five hours’ drive from the regional capital, Lhasa, along a highway opened in 2018. Night-time temperatures during winter routinely drop to well below freezing.
Chinese authorities say some 1,000 rescue workers and dozens of emergency vehicles have been deployed to the site of the disaster.
“The snow was so deep it was as high as to people’s waist, and the road is very slippery. Many rescue workers stumbled all the way there,” a local health centre employee said, according to Global Times.
Avalanches are not uncommon in the Himalayas. Last October, at least 26 people died when a mountaineering expedition was caught in an avalanche on Mount Draupadi ka Danda-II in India’s northern state of Uttarakhand.