Sun, Oct

Readiness for winter challenges


Afghan National Army soldiers running a rescue mission after avalanches struck Salang Road in Parwan province in February 2010.The Afghanistan Natural Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) is a government body established to deal with natural calamities in the country.

However, there are some measures that people can take themselves to minimise the damage before the assistance arrives.
For example, winter weather can be unpredictable. Snow, rain and temperature changes may cause avalanches in mountainous areas. In rural areas, avalanches happen without people witnessing them but sometimes people might be in the way of this powerful act of nature.

How does an avalanche happen?
Natural avalanches occur when new or windblown snow overloads older and weaker layers of snow or when weather warms rapidly.
Avalanches might also be triggered by vibrations caused by earthquakes, human weight or even explosives or gunshots. It is estimated that 90 per cent of avalanche fatalities around the world are triggered by people.

How should I react to an avalanche?
If you see the avalanche coming, shout and alert other people about the avalanche and your location.
After that, close your mouth tightly. Turn away from the avalanche and try to keep your back to it. Drop any items you are carrying because they can weigh you down when trying to stay above the snow. Try to escape to the side of the avalanche. If that is not possible, grab onto a tree, bush or rock.
Once you are caught in the avalanche, rolling like a log may help you escape to the side. Some avalanche survivors say that “swimming” with the flow of the snow helped them stay on the surface of the avalanche.
When you begin to slow down with the snow, curl into a foetal position protecting your body and cup your hands over your face. As you begin to come to a stop, reach upwards with one hand to mark the area where you are. Guard your face with the other arm to provide a breathing space. Hold your breath until the snow around you settles down.
If you become covered with snow, you should move your head side to side. This will allow an air space for you to breathe. If you can move your body, roll it from side to side. An attempt to dig out must occur very quickly.
If you are not alone and you think people with you will try to rescue you, try not to dig your way out unless you can detect light through the snow. Digging will only waste precious air and energy. Once buried, you have approximately twenty five minutes to be rescued before your air supply will run out and less time than that if you are expending energy on digging.

What should I do if I witness people being buried by an avalanche?
The search for victims must start immediately. People might die while witnesses waste time searching for help. However, do use your mobile phone to call for help.
Once the avalanche has stopped, try to note the locations where the avalanche victim or persons were last seen. Scan the area, as victims who are partially buried can often be located quickly by pulling out their clothing or equipment.

Select likely burial areas and search for them, listening for voices and looking for movement. Buried victims are most likely to be found around trees and rocks or other obstacles. They could also be near the bottom where there is debris, along edges of the avalanche track, or in low spots where the snow may collect such as crevasses, streams and ditches along roads.
Once the buried victim is found and his or her head and chest are freed, perform first aid: clean airway from snow, check pulse and perform artificial respiration if needed. Once the victim is dug out, treat any other injuries such as arterial bleeding, fractures, shock or hypothermia. Send someone to get medical help for those who have been found. After 30 to 60 minutes it is unlikely that any buried victims would be alive.