Hundreds of Afghan volunteers armed with shovels joined rescue teams in northern Afghanistan Saturday, in a mostly futile attempt to locate survivors of a massive landslide that buried hundreds of villagers under tons of rock and mud.
By nightfall, however, authorities in the remote Badakhshan province village of Aab Bareek had recovered only two bodies and said they had given up hope of finding survivors. Rescuers also voiced fears of further landslides, after days of torrential rains in the area bordering Tajikistan, China and Pakistan.
Officials say at least 300 homes have disappeared and that the death toll could rise to as high as 500. Provincial Governor Shah Waliullah Adeeb told reporters at the scene the houses were under meters of mud.
"We will offer prayers for the victims and make the area a mass grave," he said.
President Hamid Karzai announced a national day of mourning.
By late Saturday, the focus of the disaster had shifted to food, water and other needs of the thousands of people displaced or evacuated from the disaster scene.
Authorities also sought to clarify early statements on the death toll, which some locals and aid agencies had placed as high as 2,700. A presidential spokesman and United Nations officials at the scene placed preliminary figures at 250-350 confirmed dead.
U.S. President Barack Obama and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered formal condolences and promises of help.