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Recent Natural Disasters - the Worst Avalanches

Updated on August 22, 2013

Evacuation at 2010 Salang Avalanche

Afghan National Security Forces take charge of evacuation efforts, Feb. 10 after an avalanche hit Salang district in Parwan Province, Afghanistan, Feb. 9. (Courtesy photo from Afghan National Army) "
Afghan National Security Forces take charge of evacuation efforts, Feb. 10 after an avalanche hit Salang district in Parwan Province, Afghanistan, Feb. 9. (Courtesy photo from Afghan National Army) " | Source

Recent Natural Disasters Series

'Avalanches' is a follow on from "Recent Natural Disasters - the Worst Earthquakes". 'Earthquakes' is part of the 'Recent Natural Disaster' series about a common perception that natural disasters are occurring more frequently as well as becoming more intense in recent times. The series looks at seven types of natural disasters including Earthquakes, Fires, Floods, Avalanches, Cyclones/Hurricanes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes. Despite a public perception that natural disasters seem to be getting more frequent and more intense, scientists state that this is not actually so. Rather than worsening in intensity, natural disasters are worsening in their capacity to cause damage due to increased population and development, particularly in coastal areas. Scientists argue that the reason behind the perception that natural disasters are getting more frequent is increased media coverage. Of course there is also argument that the opposite is the case. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald (cited below) describes 2010 as the second worst year for natural disasters since 1980 with 950 recorded disasters, 295,000 people dead and a disaster cost of $130 billion. This series will look at those propositions in the light of the worst recent disasters.

Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain
Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain
The core information needed to assess avalanche risk is given in some detail but the explanations are presented in "everyday" terms and are quite easy to understand. None-the-less,Tremper never talks down to his readers and the full level of complexity inherent in the subject matter is maintained.


Avalanches can feature in any place where there are high mountains, snow and glaciers. An avalanche is the sudden fall of a large mass of snow, ice, rocks, mud or a mixture of these down the side of a mountain, overwhelming everything in its path. Avalanches are triggered by changes in temperature, vibrations in the earth and even sound vibrations.

What an Avalanche can Look Like

2011 Malaysian Mudslide

In May 2011, two massive landslides, occurring only moments apart, overwhelmed an orphanage in Hulu Langat, just south of Kuala Lumpur. There were 49 residents at the orphanage, most of them boys. 16 people died in the tragedy, most of them children. Landslides are common in Malaysia. The country has strict guidelines about building on or near hillsides. The area had been saturated with rain for 2 days prior to the disaster. This was not the worst landslide Malaysia has experienced, but it was one of the saddest disaster events due to the deaths of so many orphan boys.

2011 Malaysian Landslide


2010 Kohistan, Pakistan, Avalanche

In late February 2010, an avalanche struck the remote Pakistani village of Bagaro Serai, killing 102 people. The disaster was precipitated by days of heavy snowstorms in the area, blocking the roads into the area. There are no paved roads, also hampering aid efforts. The injured were placed in mosques until access could be achieved. A team of police hiked into the area on foot as the storms prevented helicopter access. Avalanches are regular events in this region as snow storms trigger glaciers in the Pakistani mountains.

2010 Kohistan Avalanche


Salang Avalanche - Afghanistan 2010

In early February 2010 a sereis of 32 avalanches struck near Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, killing at least 172 people and trapping many more in the Salang Pass, north of the capital. A section of road 3.5 kilometres long was blocked by the avalanches, resulting in the entrapment of over 2,500 people for days. The Pass is 11,000 feet above sea level. A freak storm in the nearby Hindu Kush mountain range caused the avalanche.

2010 Salang Avalanche Footage

Treating the Wounded at Salang 2010

"Army medical personnel treats of one of the survivors of the Salang Pass avalanche at the Triage on the Bagram Airfield in Parwan, Afghanistan, Feb. 9. He along with many other survivors were treated and feed a hot meal as a part of the Afghanistan
"Army medical personnel treats of one of the survivors of the Salang Pass avalanche at the Triage on the Bagram Airfield in Parwan, Afghanistan, Feb. 9. He along with many other survivors were treated and feed a hot meal as a part of the Afghanistan | Source

Path of the Huascaran 1970 Avalanche


1970 Huascaran, Peru, Avalanche

Without a doubt, the 1970 Huascaran avalanche is the most devastating recent avalanche event in history. Huascaran is the highest mountain (sixth highest in the Western Hemisphere) in the Peruvian Western Andes range. At 22,000 feet it is prone to glaciers.

Up to 75,000 people were buried and died when a 900 metre wide, 1.6 kilometre long, 80 million cubic feet, 300 kilometre per hour wall of ice, mud and rock crashed into the villages of Ranrahirca, and Yungay in 1970.

The avalanche was caused by a large earthquake which struck off the Peruvian Coast.

This occurred after a previous Huascaran avalanche in 1962 killed 4,000 people in the same area.

Unlike the earthquake information, the avalanche information has not provided a useful indication either in support or refutation of the perception that natural disasters are getting worse and more frequent in recent times.

However, an argument for the perception could be drawn from other information. There is much evidence that the polar ice caps are melting and it seems likely that glaciers could be affected in the same way. A conclusion that could be reached is that the world will become increasingly prone to avalanche as the glaciers destabilise. However, further research would be needed to explore that issue.

Test Your Avalanche Knowledge

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  • Wikipedia
  • John Pickrell, "The Worst natural Disasters in Recent History", ABC Environment, 27 April 2011:
  • 102 confirmed dead in Kohistan avalanche;
  • Ice Avalanches of the Nevados Huascar;
  • Natural Disasters killed 295,000 in 2010, Sydney Morning Herald, January 4 2011,
  • Orphans killed in Malaysia landslide, ABC News, 22 May 2011,¬†


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