Tourists stranded by avalanches in China’s Xinjiang lifted to safety by helicopter

BEIJING (Reuters) – Some tourists stranded for several days after avalanches hit highways leading to a popular winter tourism area in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang were lifted by helicopter to safety, according to local media reports on Sunday.

Days of heavy snow at Altay Prefecture in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region triggered dozens of avalanches on large sections of highways at the Altay mountains leading to the Kanas scenic area, Chinese state media outlets Xinhua and CCTV News reported on Saturday and Sunday.

Six kilometres (3.7 miles) of highways were buried, according to CCTV.

Altay, known for its ski resorts, is a popular destination for winter tourism. China has seen a huge boom in winter travel at north and northeastern cities over the past few weeks.

The snow and avalanches blocked many roads leading to Kanas, Hemu, Baihaba and other scenic spots in Burqin County, burying traffic and stranding tourists, Xinhua reported.

The Kanas scenic area management committee released a notice over the weekend saying stranded tourists would be provided accommodation free of charge, Xinhua said.

The crew of an army aviation brigade in Xinjiang loaded fuel, generators, rice, flour, oil, and other materials onto a helicopter and went to Kanas, according to Tianshan Net-Xinjiang Daily.

“After arriving at the point, staff quickly unloaded the supplies, and at the same time, some of the people who were trapped due to the heavy snowfall boarded the plane and were transferred from the Kanas Visitor Center to Kanas Airport,” the media outlet reported on Sunday.

But after completing the mission, the weather changed abruptly with more wind and snow, suspending additional rescue efforts, the report added.

The Kanas scenic area management committee said on Monday it had closed the area until Jan. 20 due to the “recent extreme weather” to ensure the personal safety of tourists, according a statement from the committee’s official WeChat account.

(Reporting by Bernard Orr and Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Jamie Freed)