Search teams aided by Pakistan Army pulled out 21 more bodies from homes destroyed by this week’s avalanches in Azad Kashmir, raising the overall death toll due to severe winter weather to 121 across Pakistan, officials said Wednesday. Rescuers were racing against time to reach scores of people believed still to be trapped inside their homes, buried under avalanches triggered by heavy snowfall in Kashmir. With many roads still blocked by snow, authorities were using helicopters to evacuate those injured. The worst affected area is Kashmir’s Neelum Valley, where the 21 bodies were retrieved, said Ahmad Raza Qadri, a minister for disaster management. He said that since Sunday, 76 people have been killed in Azad Kashmir in weather-related incidents. Another 45 people were killed in Balochistan and Punjab provinces. Prime Minister Imran Khan flew to Kashmir on Wednesday to visit the avalanche-hit areas. He visited a military hospital in Muzaffarabad, where several people, including women and children, were being treated after being rescued from Neelum Valley and elsewhere. According to the National Disaster Management Authority, the avalanches affected the villages of Surgan, Kel, Lawat, Chaknat and other places of Neelum District, leaving 76 dead, 53 injured, 198 houses damaged, including 22 shops and a mosque. Soon after the incident, prime Minister Imran Khan had directed the NDMA, the military and all relevant departments to immediately provide humanitarian assistance on an emergency basis to the affected people in AJK. The AJK civil administration was directed to accelerate rescue operations in affected areas with the cooperation of Pakistan Army, while the highway wing was asked to deploy more machinery for road clearance to ensure smooth relief operation. The NDMA, in its recent situation report received here on Wednesday, said in the wake of expediting rescue and relief activities in the heavy snowfall and rain affected areas of AJK, three more helicopters loaded with relief items were dispatched to Neelum Valley. A gigantic mass of snow rolled over a village in Surgan Bakwali area of Neelum, burying more than two dozen houses under tons of ice. Survivors dug through the snow mass with bare hands, shovels or whatever they could find to retrieve at least 50 bodies. An unspecified number of villagers are still buried underneath. Casualties are expected to rise once rescuers arrive by helicopter – the only way to reach the remote valley. Deputy Commissioner Shahid said the ravaged valley is not accessible by road as all land routes are clogged. It’s also perilous to fly helicopters as the snow is too unstable for them to land on. Abdul Rahman Sheikh, 62, said an avalanche had buried his home and seven others in his village on Monday. He dug through the snow until midnight to rescue his family, recovering his daughter-in-law – who survived with injuries – and the frozen bodies of eight other family members. He decided to bury the dead first. “I have eight dead bodies lying in the open. If I send her to the hospital, who will look after her there? And if I go along with her, who will bury the eight bodies?” Sheikh asked mournfully. Schoolteacher Asif Iqbal said he heard a rumble and a crash Monday afternoon and looked outside to see rooftops of nearby houses barely peeking up from the snow. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Balochistan said a total of 31 people perished, including 12 women, seven children and a man in various districts of the province, where 23 people were stated to be injured in the districts of Quetta, Pishin, Zhob, Kech, Killa Abdullah and Mastung. “In district Kech, 499 boundary walls of various houses along with 148 mud houses got completely damaged and 341 partially damaged while a bridge was also smashed. A water supply dam also got damaged in district Killa Abdullah. Moreover, 22 mud houses were completely dasmaged in district Kalat with 51 partially damaged,” the authority said. The authority is assessing damages in the province, where it has already declared a state of emergency in seven districts and sought the military’s help for relief and rescue operations. Key highways connecting Pakistan and Afghanistan were blocked due to heavy snow, forcing officials to suspend transportation of essential goods into the neighbouring country.