Aid groups arrive at Afghan village buried by landslides

Afghans searched for survivors after massive landslides buried a village on Friday. Credit Ahmad Zubair/Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — More than 2,000 people were feared dead Saturday as aid agencies rushed to the scene of landslides in northeastern Afghanistan that buried parts of a remote village in nearly thirty feet of mud. Thousands more have been displaced by the landslides, which occurred Friday morning after weeks of heavy rainfall, marking one of the country’s deadliest natural disasters in more than a decade.

By Saturday morning, an array of aid agencies had descended on the village of Abi Barak in the Argo district of Badakhshan Province, near the borders with China and Tajikistan. A delegation of high-level officials was also on its way to the affected areas with cash to aid displaced families. Various United Nations agencies, as well as the Afghan Red Crescent Society and other nongovernmental organizations, were already on the ground, the United Nations said.

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But the task of recovery, given the scale of the disaster, was expected to be onerous.

“I believe it is beyond human capability to even remove all of the dead bodies,” Shah Waliullah Adeeb, the governor of Badakhshan, said Friday. “It will take months for machinery to complete the search for bodies.”

The extent of the devastation was also unclear, in part because it was difficult to communicate with the area because the landslides had knocked down cellphone towers, officials said.

The United Nations, which is helping to coordinate the relief effort, said that humanitarian supplies in the area, such as blankets and food, were adequate and that emergency funds would be available if more was needed. Afghan officials said that 130 tons of flour, 60 tons of rice and 10 tons of sugar were headed to the area.

From the White House Rose Garden, President Obama said Friday, “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.”

Natural disasters are a particularly cruel feature of life in Afghanistan, which is already contending with a deadly insurgency, crippling poverty and a flagging economy. Avalanches, floods and landslides claim dozens of lives each year.

“There have now been more Afghans killed through natural disasters in the past seven days than all of 2013,” said Mark Bowden, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan.

With some areas difficult to reach, the extent of the damage from the landslides on Friday may not be known for some time, the organization said.

The northern part of the country has been plagued by flooding in recent weeks, with more than 100 people dead or missing and thousands displaced before Friday. Officials said that villages in the Argo district and elsewhere remained at risk for landslides, and the government was working to evacuate the most vulnerable residents to temporary housing in tents, while heavy equipment was moved to Abi Barak.

“We have sent five loaders and excavators to the village to remove the dirt and bring out the bodies and rescue the potential survivors,” Wais Barmak, the Afghan minister of rural rehabilitation and development and deputy head of natural disaster management, said late Friday. “This disaster is unprecedented, at least in the last few years.”