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350 dead, thousands missing as rescuers comb Afghanistan landslide

AAB BAREEK, Afghanistan -- Rescuers searched in vain for survivors on Saturday after a landslide buried an Afghan village, killing 350 people and leaving thousands of others feared dead amid warnings that more earth could sweep down the hillside.

Local people made desperate efforts to find victims trapped under a massive river of mud that engulfed Aab Bareek village in Badakhshan province, where little sign remained of hundreds of destroyed homes.

The United Nations confirmed that 350 people had been killed in Friday's disaster, while provincial officials said more than 2,000 people were feared dead.

Authorities met at the site on Saturday, and were due to release more information later in the day.

Emergency workers arrived at first light to be confronted by the enormous scale of the landslide and hundreds of homeless families.

“There is a very thick layer of mud. It is very difficult for people to take dead bodies out,” Sayed Abdullah Homayun Dehqan, provincial director of the Afghan National Disaster Management Authority, told AFP at the scene.

“They have only been able to find the body of a woman and a man.

“There is fear of another landslide. Our assessment team have seen a crack in a nearby hill.

“We have started distributing food ... but we don't have enough tents for all the 700 families who spent the night outside. There are around 2,000 people — women, children, elders — without homes.”

Dehqan cautioned that the death toll remained uncertain, after Badakhshan Governor Shah Waliullah Adeeb said late Friday that 2,500 people could have been killed.

“I have lost my sister, my house was partially destroyed,” Noor Mohammad, 45, told AFP.

“We can not really get anyone out of the debris. We have lost hope of rescuing anyone.”

The site is expected to be designated a mass grave, and memorial services have been planned.

Many villagers were at Friday prayers in two mosques when they were entombed by the tide of debris, and a second landslide hit people who had rushed to assist those in need.

Gul Bibi, 50, cried while she sat in a tent with some female relatives.

“We were at home when the first landslide happened,” she said. “We left the house, but my husband and son went back inside, then the second one hit.

“We have not been able to find them. We are devastated.”

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An Afghan villager cries as she sits in a muddy field at the scene in Argo district of Badakhshan province on Saturday, May 3, after a massive landslide the day before buried a village. (AFP)

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