Officials losing hope in Afghanistan landslide rescue mission

BY Kayla Ruble  May 3, 2014 at 1:24 PM EST
FARSHAD USYAN/AFP/Getty Images

Rescuers in Afghanistan look for survivors on Saturday after a landslide on May 3 buried a village under nearly 100 meters of mud in the northeastern province of Badakhshan. Credit: Farshad Usyan/AFP/Getty Images

Officials in Afghanistan have largely given up hope for uncovering more survivors from a landslide that hit northern Afghanistan on Friday, leaving more than 2,000 people dead.

According to Mohammad Aslam Seyas, the deputy director of Natural Disaster Management, the rescue mission was losing steam under fears that the unstable hillside could trigger a new landslide.

The landslide struck at 11 a.m. on a hillside in Badakshan province, which borders Tajikistan. Heavy rain in the last week and the spring snow melt created dangerous conditions that had already resulted in 100 deaths before the incident.

At the time the mountainside gave way, villagers were in the midst of recovering belongings that had been effected by a smaller landslip earlier that morning. The area has been hit by several landslides in recent years.

More than 4,000 have been displaced by Friday’s disaster, some as a direct result of the landslide and others out of precaution. There are 350 confirmed deaths so far, but estimates indicate the final death toll could be as high as 2,700 people, with the uncertainty due to the fact that no one is quite sure how many people were home and on the mountain at the time.

It’s estimated that 300 homes were wiped out.

Rain over the last week has damaged roads making it difficult to access the area. Rescue teams from Afghanistan’s military flew into the affected region on Saturday.

While rescuers continued to dig through about 100 meters of mud which could have buried potential survivors, authorities have said its unlikely they will find more survivors.

“That will be their cemetery,” said Mohammad Karim Khalili, one of Afghanistan’s two vice presidents, after visiting the scene on Saturday. “It is not possible to bring out any bodies.”

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is on the ground to help the victims, many of whom are now homeless. According to spokesperson Ari Gaitanis, their needs include water, medicine, food and emergency shelter.

NATO troops are ready to provide assistance, but the government has not made any requests.

President Obama said Saturday that American forces were also on standby to help in response efforts.

“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.