SRINAGAR, India, March 19, Reuter: Avalanches swallowed two villagers in Jammu and Kashmir, killing at least 55 people in two days and bringing deaths: from 10 days of bad weather to more than 250, officials said on Saturday.

They said they feared the toll in the north Indian state could be much higher. The United News of India news agency said earlier the avalanches latest in a series of disasters caused by heavy rain and snow, claimed at least 90 lives.

Snow and ice thundered down on at least two villages in southeast Kashmir and reports reaching Srinagar said scores of houses were buried.

Army helicopters were sent to rescue survivors from the remote villages. Roads were blocked and medinas and other relief supplies had to be airlifted to survivors.

The 300km highway linking winter capital Jammu with the summer capital Srinagar reopened on Friday after being impassable for eight days the. Press Trust of India (PTI) said. Landslides and snowdrifts had blocked the only surface route into the Kashmir valley in 22 places.

The air force and a domestic airline shuttled between the cities for four days in an effort help 5,000 travellers stranded in Jammu reach Srinagar. PTI said the 2,000 still in Jammu when the road reopened left by bus late on Friday.

Control of Moslem majority Jammu and Kashmir is disputed by India and Pakistan. India controls about two thirds of the former princely state and Pakistan most of the remainder. A disputed eastern portion has been controlled by China since the 1962 Sino-Indian border war.

Prime Minister Raiv Gandhi visited South Eastern Kashmir on Monday to inspect damage by avalanches and landslides that killed more than 100 people in the north Indian State, officials said.

Gandhi, accompanied by State Chief Minister, Faroog Abdullah, flew by helicopter to Kargil district in the wild and remote Ladakh region. After making an aerial survey Gandhi landed to address crowds and meet survivors.

Abdullah told reporters that 109 people had been killed in nearly two weeks of bad weather in the State which has been disputed between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947.

Earlier the officials had estimated the toll could reach 200.

Article extracted from this publication >> March 25, 1988