An avalanche in the Indian Himalayas killed at least seven tourists, the Indian Army announced on Tuesday, adding that more than 370 people were rescued from the area in the remote northeastern state of Sikkim.
The avalanche, reported around noon local time, struck near Nathu La, a scenic mountain pass connecting Tibet to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim state, according to India’s Border Roads Organization. The police said rescue work was paused late Tuesday because of darkness and more snowfall, and it remained unclear whether more people might still be missing or trapped under thick layers of snow.
The roads group, which maintains roads in the region, said on Twitter that hundreds of people were initially reported to be buried in the snow, and that rescue operations began quickly. It posted photos showing workers digging across a huge expanse of snow that had fallen down a slope.
The force of the avalanche was so strong that it knocked cars off a road, according to local news reports, and the roads group said that more than 80 vehicles were affected.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered condolences on Twitter, saying that he was distressed by the news of the avalanche. “All possible assistance is being provided to those affected,” he said.
Police officials in Sikkim said that some of those trapped in the snow had ventured beyond Mile 15, an area that had been deemed unsafe after a recent heavy snowfall.
“Today’s pass was given only till the 15th mile, but we are always pressured by tourists to be allowed to go higher,” Akshay Sachdeva, a senior police officer, told reporters in a news conference at the site on Tuesday evening. “When tourists come, they want to see the snowfall.”
Tuesday’s avalanche came days after another hit the Lahaul-Spiti region of the Indian Himalayas. Gusts of snow, appearing like clouds, engulfed an area near the village of Shooling, killing at least one person.
In October last year, at least 26 people were killed after an avalanche struck climbers in the state of Uttarakhand, one of the worst such episodes in recent years. Just a month earlier, an avalanche in Nepal had killed Hilaree Nelson, 49, a noted American ski mountaineer.
Heavy rainfall, in addition to snow, has also been a significant problem in the region in recent months. At least 10,000 tourists were rescued in Sikkim in the last month alone after they were stranded by rain, snow and landslides, according to the roads organization.
Sikkim, a hilly region at more than 5,000 feet above sea level, is heavily dependent on tourism, advertising its magnificent views of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain. The industry, which employs nearly 75 percent of the local population, has only begun to recover from huge losses incurred after the pandemic restricted travel.