Hundreds of people are dead or missing after landslides in remote northeastern Afghanistan buried a village under as much as 60 feet of mud and rocks, officials said Friday.
The United Nations said at least 350 people had been killed in Badakhshan, a rugged province between Tajikistan and Pakistan. Shah Waliullah Adeeb, the provincial governor, said about 2,500 people were trapped under the landslides, which occurred Friday afternoon after several days of heavy rain.
It was one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory in Afghanistan, where spring rainfall and snowmelt make the mountainous northeast susceptible to flash floods and mudslides. U.N. officials said more Afghans had been killed in natural disasters in the last seven days than in all of 2013.
A search-and-rescue effort was underway and eight people had been found, according to Afghan news agencies. Afghan soldiers and police who reached the village were hampered by the scale of the landslides, Adeeb said.
"We found that it's impossible to rescue those people even … with machinery. They are covered in about 20 meters of dirt," he said in a telephone interview.
The first landslide crushed about 300 homes, he said, and when several hundred people arrived to try to rescue those buried, they were hit by a second slide.
President Obama said the United States was ready to assist with the rescue effort.
"I want to say on behalf of the American people that our thoughts are with the people of Afghanistan, who have experienced an awful tragedy," he said at the White House during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
U.N. humanitarian officials said some areas remained difficult to reach, making the scale of the damage unclear.
"The foremost priority at the moment is saving as many lives as possible of those still beneath the rubble," said Mark Bowden, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan. "The U.N. system is fully engaged in the ongoing effort and is mobilizing more capacity and resources to bolster the response."
Officials fear more landslides are possible because of more rain and melting snow. About 700 families living on a hillside near Aab Barik were told to move to higher ground and wait for emergency aid to reach them, Adeeb said.
Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.