KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan rescuers and hundreds of volunteers armed with shovels rushed on Saturday to help villagers hit by a massive landslide in the remote northeast a day earlier, officials said, as fears of a new torrent of mud and earth complicated rescue efforts.
Abdullah Homayun Dehqan, the director of Badakshan province's National Disaster Department, said he did not have an exact figure on how many people were killed in the village of Hobo Barak, although the United Nations on Friday said at least 350 people had died and the provincial governor said as many as 2,000 people were feared missing.
A memorial ceremony is planned for later Saturday, and the site is expected to be designated as a mass grave, said U.N. spokesman Ari Gaitanis. Senior officials from Kabul including one of the country's two vice presidents were flying to Badakshan province to check on the status of the operation.
Rescuers have struggled to reach the remote area in northeastern Afghanistan, where there is little development or infrastructure. Heavy rains earlier this week contributed to the landslide.
In addition to the wars and fighting that have plagued Afghanistan for roughly three decades, the country has been subject to repeated natural disasters including landslides and avalanches. A landslide in 2012 killed 71 people. Authorities were not able to recover the vast majority of bodies and ended up declaring the site a massive grave.