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Hopes for survivors of deadly Afghan mudslide diminish

Farshad Usyan/ AFP

Rescuers in Afghanistan on Saturday combed through mud and debris in a remote northeastern region struck by a mudslide that killed at least 300 people, according to Afghan officials.


Hundreds of homes were buried in Afghanistan’s Badakshan Province on Friday when a section of a mountain collapsed, engulfing villages following heavy rain.

A rustic, mountainous province that borders Pakistan, Tajikistan and China, Badakshan is one of the poorest and most remote regions of Afghanistan. As government officials and rescue teams struggled to access the disaster site, there were conflicting reports of the death toll from Friday’s mudslide.

Earlier Saturday, a local official said about 2,500 people had disappeared in the rubble. But in an interview with AFP later Saturday, Gul Mohammad Bedar, Badakshan’s deputy governor, put the figure of confirmed dead at 300 before adding that the death toll was expected to rise to 500.

"The first figure that we announced was obtained from local people, not from our technical team," said Bedar.

Reporters in Afghanistan said rescuers had rudimentary equipment with many of them using their bare hands to sift through the rubble.

Rain, melting snow hamper rescue efforts

Rescue efforts have also been hampered by difficult conditions due to a week of heavy rain. Seasonal rains and the spring melting of snow have caused heavy destruction across large swathes of northern Afghanistan, already killing more than 100 people.

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

President Hamid Karzai ordered Afghan officials to start emergency relief efforts immediately to reach the poor village. A UN representative in Kabul said roads to the village were open but passage was not suitable for heavy machinery.

Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan, said it may be some time yet until a clear picture of the full extent of the damage is known.

NATO-led coalition troops in the region were discussing search-and-rescue contributions with Afghan forces, the United Nations said.

US President Barack Obama, in remarks before a news conference at the White House with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, expressed his condolences.

“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, for even as our war there comes to an end this year, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people will endure,” he said.

About 30,000 US soldiers remain in Afghanistan, although that number will decrease as Washington plans to withdraw all combat troops battling Taliban insurgents by the end of the year.


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