Rescue teams have abandoned the search for survivors after a landslide buried a hillside village in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 300 people under a fast-moving tide of rock and mud.
Local people and emergency workers using shovels tried in vain to find victims trapped under the massive landslide that engulfed Aab Bareek village in Badakhshan province.
Officials said that the final death toll could rise as high as 500 after Friday’s disaster, updating earlier information that 2500 people were feared dead.
“Based on our reports, 300 houses are under the debris,” Badakhshan governor Shah Waliullah Adeeb told reporters at the scene on Saturday.
“We have a list of around 300 people confirmed dead.
“We cannot continue the search and rescue operation anymore, as the houses are under metres of mud. We will offer prayers for the victims and make the area a mass grave.”
Relief teams arrived at first light on Saturday to be confronted by the enormous scale of destruction and hundreds of homeless families who had spent a night in the open.
“The first figure (of 2500 feared dead) that we announced was obtained from local people, not from our technical team,” said Gul Mohammad Bedar, the deputy governor of Badakhshan.
“We think the death toll will not rise beyond 500.”
Many villagers were at Friday prayers in two mosques when they were entombed by the torrent of debris, and a second landslide hit people who had rushed to assist those in need.
“I have lost my sister, my house was partially destroyed,” said Noor Mohammad, 45.
“We can not really get anyone out of the debris. We have lost hope of rescuing anyone.”
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.”
The landslide in the Argo district of Badakhshan left little evidence of the hundreds of homes it swept away at about midday after days of heavy rain.
President Hamid Karzai expressed his condolences to those affected, and announced a national day of mourning on Sunday.