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Thousands Feared Dead in Afghan Landslide

Afghans search for survivors after landslide buried in Abi-Barik village in Badakhshan province, northeastern Afghanistan, May 3, 2014.
Rescuers are desperately searching through tons of mud and rock debris for survivors of a massive landslide in Afghanistan's remote Badakshan province. Estimates of the death toll range from 250 to 2,000, and more landslides are expected.

Using their bare hands and shovels, rescuers on Saturday were trying to dig through some 10 meters of mud and rock that collapsed under torrential rains and buried hundreds of homes in northern Afghanistan.

Badakshan borders Tajikistan, China and Pakistan in the far north of Afghanistan. Because of the remoteness of the location and the narrowness of the roads, delivering heavy rescue equipment is difficult, officials said.

U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his support to Afghanistan after hearing reports of the devastation.

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

The local head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Aidan O’Leary, said a series of flash floods has hit the area in the past week. Then Friday, the entire side of a mountain collapsed, sending down a massive landslide that buried some 300 homes in the village Ab Barak.

Rescuers who rushed in to help from nearby villages were caught in subsequent landslides, he said. Not many were expected to have survived.

“It’s also expected that the intent is to designate the overall site as a mass grave. The focus for ongoing relief and humanitarian efforts is very much on those who survived and approximately another 4,000 Afghans who have been displaced in villages in the immediate vicinity where there is also further risks of landslides taking place,” said O’Leary.

Survivors and the homeless are in desperate need of water, medical help, food and emergency shelter, he added.

The Afghan Red Crescent Society and various other non-governmental organizations are rushing aid to the area.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.