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 U.N. 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.”
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 director for National Disaster Department. 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.
Authorities evacuated a nearby village over concerns about further landslides, the governor said. Dehqan said blankets and tents had been sent and about 400 people from nearby villages had gathered to help with the rescue effort.
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, for even as our war there comes to an end this year, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people will endure,” 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 following 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. After days of digging unearthed only five bodies, authorities decided to halt the recovery effort and turn the area into a memorial for the dead.
Avalanches are also a factor. In February 2010, when more than 170 people were killed at the 12,700-foot-high Salang Pass, which is the major route through the Hindu Kush mountains that connects the capital to the north.