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Avalanche kills seven tourists near Himalayan beauty spot in India

New Delhi — At least seven people were killed and more than a dozen injured Tuesday in India's northeast Sikkim state when a massive wall of snow cascaded down a mountain onto a Himalayan highway. The avalanche struck on Jawaharlal Nehru Road, near Nathula Pass, a popular tourist destination on the border with China known for its stunning Himalayan vistas.

India Avalanche
In this handout photo released by the Indian Army, soldiers clear snow from an avalanche near Nathu La mountain pass in India's Sikkim state, April, 4, 2023. AP/Indian Army

More than 35 tourists who were on the road to the mountain pass were hit by the avalanche early Tuesday morning. Police and other emergency workers launched a rescue operation soon after and managed to save about 22 people, including six who were pulled up from a deep valley they had been swept into.

Sikkim police confirmed that at least seven people were killed, and they said the death toll was likely to rise as between 20 and 30 people were still feared trapped under the snow, according to army officials quoted by the Indian Express news outlet. 

Sikkim police superintendent Tenzing Loden Lepcha, told CBS News it was "not yet clear how many people are under the snow."

Rescue operations continued into the evening. Videos from the scene showed rescue workers digging through snow searching for survivors.

One clip showed a man being rescued.

The avalanche also left hundreds of Nathula-bound tourists stranded on the road for several hours before they were able to move back to the state capital, Gangtok.

Rajnath Singh, India's Defense Minister, said he was "saddened" by the loss of life in the avalanche.

The ecologically sensitive Himalayan region has seen the increasing impact of climate change for years, with floods, landslides and glacier calving all increasing.

More than two dozen people were killed in February 2021 when a Himalayan glacier collapse in Uttarakhand state resulted in a huge deluge. More than 6,000 people were killed, left missing or presumed dead in 2013 when heavy monsoon rains triggered massive flooding in the same region.

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