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2000 feared trapped in Afghan landslide

Kabul, May 2 (Reuters): More than 2,000 people were trapped and hundreds feared dead after a landslide smashed into a village in a remote mountainous area of Afghanistan today, local officials said, prompting a massive search and rescue effort.

The landslide crashed into the northeastern village in Argo district at around 0630 GMT as villagers were trying to recover their belongings and livestock after a smaller landslip had hit the area a few hours earlier.

“There were more than 1,000 families living in that village. A total of 2,100 people — men, women and children — are trapped,” Naweed Forotan, a spokesman for the Badakhshan governor, told Reuters.

“As the part of the mountain which collapsed is so big, we don’t believe anyone would survive. The government and locals from surrounding villagers are helping with the rescue, and so far they have recovered more then a hundred bodies.”

At least 100 people were being treated for injuries, according to Col Abdul Qadeer Sayad, a deputy police chief of Badakhshan province.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) put the number of fatalities at 350, and said significant displacement was expected.

The landslide, which followed a week of heavy rain at a time of melting spring snow, crushed hundreds of houses and damaged hundreds more, Sayad said.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by difficult conditions, with the area flooded by more than a week of rain. Seasonal rains have caused heavy destruction across the north of the country, killing over 100 people.

President Hamid Karzai ordered Afghan officials to start emergency relief efforts immediately.

“A high-ranking government delegation will soon travel to Badakhshan province to provide aid for affected locals,” his office said in a statement.

A UN representative in Kabul said roads to the village were open but passage was not suitable for heavy machinery.

Nato-led coalition troops in the region were discussing search and rescue contributions with Afghan forces, the UN said.

President Barack Obama, in remarks ahead of a news conference at the White House with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, expressed his condolences.

“Just as the United States has stood with the people of Afghanistan through a difficult decade, we stand ready to help our Afghan partners as they respond to this disaster, for even as our war there comes to an end this year, our commitment to Afghanistan and its people will endure,” he said.

Around 30,000 US soldiers remain in Afghanistan, although that number is falling as Washington prepares to withdraw by the end of this year all combat troops who battled Taliban insurgents.

Badakhshan province, nestled in the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges and bordering China, is one of the most remote in the country.