ZOW, Afghanistan – Flood waters from a clogged river gradually were submerging this northern Afghan village after a powerful earthquake sheered off a steep cliff, burying at least 100 people.
Water was rising fast behind the rubble dam in the valley, and villagers hacked at half-submerged houses with farm tools Tuesday, trying to salvage their belongings and timber beams.
About 300 homes either have been submerged or have collapsed because their bases eroded, village elder Abdul Qodoos said. Unless the dam was breached and the water allowed to flow, all 1,000 or so buildings in the village could be underwater in about two days, he said.
The huge chunk of cliff collapsed during Sunday's earthquake, burying at least 100 mud-brick houses, a mosque and a cafe under tons of rock.
Four bodies were recovered, but villagers and U.N officers who reached the site Monday said at least 100 people were killed.
Helicopters from the U.N. World Food Program flew to Zow late Monday with 22 tons of food. Other non-governmental organizations drove there to administer first aid. U.N. officers returned there Tuesday while a technical team started bringing earth-moving equipment, a U.N. spokesman said.
Shamsudin Abdul, 18, said he was fishing in the river near his house when the earthquake hit. Minutes later, he heard a crashing sound and dust and rock came tumbling down on him. He was thrown clear, but his house was buried with two brothers inside.
"The mountain exploded. It shot me across the valley. I flew 100 yards from where I was," he said Tuesday from his grandmother's home across the canyon, where he was recovering from a broken arm. "Villagers came to help me and brought me here."
The U.S. Geological Survey called the 7.2-magnitude quake the region's strongest since one of identical strength Dec. 30, 1983, killed 14 people in Pakistan and 12 in Afghanistan.
Sunday's quake was felt in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Besides the deaths in Zow, two people were killed in Samangan, about 45 miles to the north, authorities said. Another seven were reported dead in Rustaq, farther to the north, and one person was reported killed in Kabul.
In Zow, crashing rocks blocked the gorge where the farming hamlet is located, reducing the river to a trickle.
Nahmatullah Abdullah stood on the roof of his mud-brick house, where the near-freezing water was knee-high, and dug at the structure.
"We must move away and live in the mountains," Nahmatullah said. "This is not a place to live anymore."
As he spoke, another chunk of rock broke free from the 200-yard-high cliff face opposite him, throwing up a plume of the fine white dust that has covered everything for a half-mile stretch. A 100-yard-wide scar across the top of the cliff marks where the slide started.
Villagers on both sides of the canyon had no way to clear the debris blocking the river. Some even suggested that U.S. forces bomb the rubble dam to let the water pass through, Qodoos said.
Sunday's quake was deep in the earth — making it widely felt, but less devastating than a shallower quake would be, the USGS said.
Qodoos said the village would be uninhabitable within two days and residents either would rebuild somewhere else in the mountains or become internal refugees.
"We have had three years of drought but the summer had come and we were planting our fields again," Qodoos said. "We hoped that this year would be better. But now the mountain has come down and covered the village, destroyed the houses.