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2,700 feared dead in Afghanistan landslide

May 04, 2014

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Villagers rendered homeless by the calamity sit on the ground near tents pitched for the affected.—AFP
Villagers rendered homeless by the calamity sit on the ground near tents pitched for the affected.—AFP

KABUL: Afghan officials gave up hope on Saturday of finding any survivors from a landslide in the remote northeast, with the number killed or missing put at 2,700 by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The United Nations said the focus was now on helping more than 4,000 people displaced either directly as a result of the landslide or as a precautionary measure from villages assessed to be at risk.

International organisations and Afghan officials said at least 300 mud brick homes were buried on Friday in the impoverished province bordering Tajikistan.

The UN mission in Afghanistan said the death of more than 350 people had been confirmed, but a spokesman for the local governor said the number was over 2,100.

“The scale of this landslide is absolutely devastating, with an entire village practically wiped away,” the Afghanistan Chief of Mission of the Geneva-based IOM, Richard Danziger, said. “Hundreds of families have lost everything and are in immense need of assistance.”

The IOM said over 14,000 people were affected.

“Their main needs are water, medicine, food and emergency shelter,” Ari Gaitanis, a spokesman from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said.

Officials expressed concern the unstable hillside above the site of the disaster might cave in again, threatening the homeless as well as the UN and local rescue teams working there.

Villagers and a few dozen police personnel, equipped with only basic digging tools, resumed their search when daylight broke but it soon became clear there was no hope of finding survivors buried in the deep mud and rubble.

“Seven members of my family were here, four or five of them were killed... I am also half alive, what can I do?” said an elderly woman.

The side of the mountain above Abi-Barak collapsed at around 11am on Friday as people were trying to recover belongings and livestock after a smaller landslip hit a few hours earlier.

Hundreds of homes were destroyed in the landslides that were triggered by torrential rain. Officials worry another section of the mountainside could collapse at any time.

The Afghan military flew rescue teams to the area on Saturday, as the remote mountain region is served by only narrow, poor roads which have themselves been damaged by more than a week of heavy rain.

“We have managed to get one excavator into the area, but digging looks hopeless,” Col Abdul Qadeer Sayad, a deputy police chief of Badakhshan, told Reuters.

He said the sheer size of the area affected, and the depth of the mud, meant that only modern machinery could help.

Nato-led coalition troops were on standby to assist but said the Afghan government had not asked for help.

“I call on the government to come and help our people, to take the bodies out,” said a middle-aged man, standing on a hill overlooking the river of mud where his village once stood. “We managed to take out only 10-15 people, the rest of our villagers here are trapped.”

Hundreds of people cam­ped out overnight in near free­zing conditions, although some were given tents. Officials distributed food and water.—Reuters