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Avalanches trap 1,000 tourists in remote Chinese holiday village

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Approximately 1,000 tourists find themselves marooned in the remote holiday village of Hemu in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, grappling with the aftermath of avalanches that have severed access to the picturesque location. 

According to Reuters, State TV reported on Tuesday that the stranded tourists are facing significant challenges due to both the meters-high snow accumulation and the capricious weather conditions prevailing in the region.

Hemu village, nestled near the borders of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia in Xinjiang’s Altay Prefecture, has been isolated for several days as avalanches, triggered by continuous snowfall lasting 10 days in some areas, have blocked roadways leading to the village. 

Describing the severity of the situation, Chinese state media outlets revealed that the snow brought by the avalanches reached heights of up to seven meters in certain areas, surpassing the capacity of available snow-clearing equipment.

Over the weekend, numerous avalanches cascaded along highways in the Altay mountains, disrupting access to the Kanas scenic area. In response, some tourists were rescued by helicopters, a challenging task given the adverse conditions. 

CCTV reported that the avalanche debris, consisting of rocks, debris, and tree branches, posed additional hurdles for rescue and snow removal operations. Traditional rotary snowplow vehicles proved ineffective, necessitating the use of shovels and excavators to clear the blocked roads.

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

He highlighted the unprecedented challenges faced by rescue teams despite their experience with heavy snowfall in the past.

Compounding the rescue efforts are the rapidly changing weather conditions in the mountainous area. The narrow windows for conducting supply missions further delayed a military helicopter scheduled to deliver essential provisions, including flour and fuel, to Hemu village on Tuesday morning, as reported by CCTV.

Despite the challenges, highway management authorities in Altay have organized a response team consisting of 53 personnel and 31 sets of machinery and equipment dedicated to rescue and relief operations. 

Zhao Jinsheng anticipates a prolonged effort, stating that snow clearing work to restore access to Hemu village will continue for some time, especially on the last four kilometers of road affected by the avalanche.

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