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Fresh landslides, snowfall blocks Sgr-Jmu highway; thousands stranded

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Srinagar, Mar 02: Fresh landslides triggered by incessant rains and snowfall on Saturday blocked the –Srinagar-Jammu national highway once again, hours after it was opened for one-way traffic, leaving thousands of commuters stranded, officials said.

The highway was opened for Kashmir-bound vehicles Saturday morning after remaining closed for the past five days.

About eight inches of snow had accumulated on the ground near the Jawahar Tunnel - the gateway to Kashmir, while incessant rains triggered landslides and sent stones hurling down a hillock at several places between Banihal and Ramban, forcing closure of the highway, the officials said.

They said the debris clearance operation could not be started due to the rainfall.

The closure of the highway left thousands of commuters, who had left for Srinagar from Jammu stranded at various places.

"We have left for Srinagar around 4 AM and managed to reach near the Nashri Tunnel after moving at a snail's pace. After spending 16 hours to cover a distance of nearly 100 km, we are returning to Jammu," Owais Hameed Bhat, a resident of Natipora locality of Srinagar, was quoted as saying by PTI.

Abdul Rashid,70, from Bemina area of Srinagar said he along with his wife are not in good health and decided to leave for Srinagar after the Traffic department gave them green signal.

"We left around 2 AM in a cab given the weather prediction to reach our destination. We are yet to reach Ramban - 145 km from Jammu," he said, claiming that there were no restrictions on the movement of trucks from Kashmir to Jammu despite the Traffic department's clear directive that no vehicle would be allowed from the opposite direction.

"Had they allowed only Srinagar-bound traffic, we would have crossed the Jawahar Tunnel early in the morning before it started raining heavily," he said.

A Traffic department official said the highway was blocked by a landslide at Panthiyal around 1 PM and constant stones coming down from the hillock did not allow the concerned agencies to carry out the road clearance operation.

He confirmed that some stranded trucks were allowed to move towards Jammu in the morning, but the inclement weather caused the problem.

More than 4,000 vehicles, including passenger vehicles, are stranded at various places, the official said, adding that a large number of vehicles returned to Jammu from Udhampur and other places after they were informed that it will take some time to clear the debris.

The vehicles stranded in the landslide-prone areas are being moved to safety, he said.

No fresh vehicle will be allowed on the highway from either Srinagar or Jammu and the preference would be given to the stranded vehicles once the road is made traffic worthy, the official said.

The 270-km strategic highway was closed on Monday after multiple landslides and sinking of a portion of a road near Ramban town, they said.

After restoring the road and clearing the stranded vehicles, including truck carrying essential commodities to Srinagar, authorities decided to allow Kashmir-bound traffic from Jammu on Saturday.

The high-altitude areas experienced fresh snowfall, while the plains were lashed by intermittent rains since Friday evening. (With PTI inputs)

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