Maqsood had no idea that the entire side of the bare mountain
above him, drenched by a week of heavy rain, had fractured and was
about to cave in.
The second, even bigger landslide happened so quickly that Maqsood
had no time to run. He was swamped by a wall of mud that swallowed
up his home and some 300 others around him, taking hundreds,
possibly thousands of lives in Afghanistan's worst natural disaster
in a decade.
"It sounded like a bomb and I screamed, called my father and mother
for help," he told Reuters on Sunday from a makeshift clinic in a
tent where the injured were being treated by local and Red Cross
"It was so dark and dusty everywhere and I didn't know what
happened," said Maqsood, his head and leg wrapped in bandages.
The boy's father, a shovel already in hand after helping victims
from the first landslide, rushed to back to find his son. Twenty
minutes later, he dragged Maqsood from the earth and debris.
In one the poorest areas of Afghanistan - where most people do not
have electricity and roads are almost non-existent - Maqsood's
family was lucky: his mother and brother were also saved.
The United Nations on Sunday put the death toll from Friday's
massive landslide in Badakhshan province, bordering Tajikistan, at
up to 500. Local officials say the number killed could be as high as
U.S. President Barack Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai on
Sunday to express his condolences and offer additional assistance,
the White House said in a statement.
It is unlikely the final figure will ever be known, as officials say
it is impossible to retrieve the bodies buried in up to 50 meters
(160 feet) of mud and debris.
"We cannot continue the search and rescue operation anymore, as the
houses are under meters of mud," said Gul Mohammad Bedaar, deputy
governor of Badakhshan province. "We will offer prayers for the
victims and make the area a mass grave."
Fears of another landslide prompted officials to evacuate the
remaining 700 families, or about 4,000 people, to safer ground
nearby. They may never return to live in their homes in Aab Bareek.
Afghan army helicopters delivered water, food, medicine and tents on
Sunday, while aid agencies and local relief workers slowly arrived
after a difficult journey over a pot-holed road.
The U.N. agency in charge of relief operations, the Office for the
coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the displaced were
largely being accommodated with host families, with some in tents.
But villagers expressed their anger with the relief effort, saying
that many had already spent two nights in the open in near-freezing
[to top of second column]
"At least they should give us a shelter to live in," said Bibi
Nawroz, who said she had lost eight members of her family in the
Local officials echoed their concerns, calling on the
government and foreign aid agencies to act more quickly.
"There are thousands of families who are in desperate need of help
and hundreds of other homes are at risk, or possibly another
landslide," said deputy governor Bedaar.
"The government and relief organizations must act swiftly and send
us more aid and equipment. What we have so far is not enough."
Over the past fortnight, about a third of the country has been
flooded due to heavy seasonal rains and snow melt, killing 159
The United Nations says 71,000 have been affected in a country prone
to natural disasters due to its geographical location and years of
Despite offers of help from the United States and NATO-led coalition
troops battling Taliban insurgents, the Afghan government says it
can manage on its own, with the assistance of aid agencies.
Relations between Kabul and Washington are at an all-time low over
Karzai's refusal to sign a security agreement allowing a small U.S.
force to remain in the country at the end of the year.
Twelve years after U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan to drive the
Taliban from power, foreign combat troops will withdraw on December
31, leaving security in Afghan hands.
The United States wants to keep a force of less than 10,000 troops
there for counter-insurgency and training purposes.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Jeremy Laurence;
Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Eric Walsh)
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