KABUL, Afghanistan — A landslide triggered by heavy rain buried large sections of a northeastern Afghan village Friday, killing at least 350 people and leaving up to 2,500 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 at midday, burying it under up to 60 feet of mud and rocks, officials said.
Landslides and avalanches are frequent in Afghanistan, but Friday’s was one of the deadliest.
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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 past seven days than in all of 2013.
Gov. Shah Waliullah Adeeb said up to 2,500 people were missing after the landslide buried some 300 homes, about one-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 to rescue trapped people.
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.”
The Badakhshan provincial police chief, Maj. Gen. Faziluddin Hayar, said rescue workers 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 showed that 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 the National Disaster Department.
He 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 Obama said the United States was ready to assist.
“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.
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.
Material from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.