Sunday, May 4, 2014

Afghanistan landslide: Day of mourning declared

David Loyn describes "tragic scenes" from an Afghan hillside, as landslide survivors fight over bread

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The Afghan government has declared a day of national mourning for hundreds of people killed when a mudslide engulfed their village on Friday.

Badakhshan provincial governor Shah Waliullah Adib told the BBC there was now no hope for more than 2,000 people believed buried in their homes.

Officials formally ended the search for survivors on Saturday.

Mechanical diggers had left Ab Barik village without being used because the site was inaccessible.

The BBC's David Loyn says it is unlikely that there will be any serious effort made to recover the bodies.

Metres of mud

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I witnessed an argument between a large group of men over a sack of bread”
At least 2,000 people were in their homes when a mountain collapsed and covered the area in mud and rocks. 

A further 600 people are also missing after rushing to help with the rescue effort and being caught in a second landslide.

Rudimentary efforts by locals to dig into the soft mud with shovels were quickly abandoned.
A few hundred survivors have spent a second night out in the open, although blankets, tents and basic food aid have now arrived.
Afghan villagers gather at the site of a landslide at the Argo district in Badakhshan province, - 3 May 2014 Locals who rushed to help with the rescue efforts were caught by a second landslide in the area
An Afghan woman with her children stands near her tent at the site of a landslide at the Argo district in Badakhshan - 3 May 2014 Hundreds of people have been left homeless after the landslide
Survivors sit with their possessions near the site of Friday's landslide that buried Ab Barik village in Badakhshan province, north-eastern Afghanistan, 3 May 2014 The affected area is in one of Afghanistan's poorest regions
Correspondents say they have demanded that government officials resettle them elsewhere because they do not want to return to the village where so many lie buried.

"We cannot continue the search and rescue operation any more, as the houses are under metres of mud," Mr Adib said.

Online reaction

There has been an unprecedented response from young Afghans across the country on Facebook to the landslide in Badakhshan. In Pashto, Dari and English, they are writing: "Badakhshan we are with you, we are mourning your sorrow".

Others have changed their profile pictures to the remote village of Ab Barik - now the main topic being discussed among a majority of Afghans.

Funds have been set up for victims by many Afghans in and outside the country.
Others on Facebook have castigated what they call a slow government response and for failing to warn people in the province.

Senior Afghan officials have also been castigated after group photos of them visiting the affected areas appeared on Facebook, showing some laughing.

"We will offer prayers for the victims and make the area a mass grave."
'Absolutely devastating'
Heavy rain is believed to have triggered the two landslides, which hit on Friday morning.
Friday is a day of rest in Afghanistan, meaning whole families would have been at home at the time.

"The scale of this landslide is absolutely devastating, with an entire village practically wiped away," said Richard Danziger, from the International Organization for Migration, which is providing aid to the village.

"Hundreds of families have lost everything and are in immense need of assistance."
One survivor, Zia ul-Haq, told reporters: "My family, including my child and all my belongings are buried here."

Mountainous Badakhshan, which borders Tajikistan, China and Pakistan, is one of the poorest regions in Afghanistan.

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