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Landslide in Afghanistan kills hundreds

KABUL, Afghanistan — A landslide triggered by heavy rain buried large sections of a remote northeastern Afghan village on Friday, killing at least 350 people and leaving more than 2,000 missing. Villagers looked on helplessly and the governor appealed for shovels to help dig through the mass of mud that flattened every home in its path.

The mountainous area in Badakhshan province has experienced days of heavy rain and flooding, and the side of a cliff collapsed onto the village of Hobo Barik around midday. Landslides and avalanches are frequent in Afghanistan, but Friday's was one of the deadliest.

Gov. Shah Waliullah Adeeb said more than 2,000 people were missing after the landslide buried some 300 homes — about a third of all the houses in the area.

At least 350 people were confirmed dead, according to Ari Gaitanis, a spokesman from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He said the United Nations was working with authorities on the ground to rescue people still trapped.

The governor said rescue crews were working but didn't have enough equipment.

"It's physically impossible right now," Adeeb said. "We don't have enough shovels; we need more machinery."

The Badakhshan provincial police chief, Maj. Gen. Faziluddin Hayar, said rescuers had pulled seven survivors and three bodies from the mounds of mud and earth but held out little hope that more survivors would be found.

"Now we can only help the displaced people. Those trapped under the landslide and who have lost lives, it is impossible to do anything for them," Hayar said.

Video footage of the scene showed a large section of the mountain collapsed, sending mud and earth tumbling onto the village below.

The landslide was likely caused by heavy rain, said Abdullah Homayun Dehqan, the province's National Disaster Department director. He said floods last week in different districts of the province killed four people and eight more were still missing.

Landslides occur frequently in the province, but they generally happen in remote areas and produce far fewer casualties, said Mohammad Usman Abu Zar from the Meteorology Department of Badakhshan province.

Hayar said the landslide happened about 1 p.m. Friday, a day of worship in Afghanistan when many families would have been at home instead of at work.

President Barack Obama, speaking at a White House news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, expressed his sympathy for the Afghan people. "Just as the United States has stood with the people of Afghanistan through a difficult decade, we stand ready to help our Afghan partners as they respond to this disaster," he said.

Badakhshan province, nestled in the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges and bordering China, is one of the most remote in the country. The area has seen few attacks from insurgents since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Afghans living in the rugged mountains of northern Afghanistan are used to natural disasters. A landslide in Baghlan province, also in northeastern Afghanistan, killed 71 people in 2012.

Afghans search for landslide survivors Friday in the Badakhshan province, which recently endured heavy rain and flooding.

Associated Press

Afghans search for landslide survivors Friday in the Badakhshan province, which recently endured heavy rain and flooding.

Landslide in Afghanistan kills hundreds 05/02/14 [Last modified: Saturday, May 3, 2014 12:28am]
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