The Washington Post

In Afghan village buried by mudslides, hopes of finding survivors fade

Farmers in this remote region of Afghanistan had barely come running to save people trapped by a huge mudslide when, suddenly, the mountain above them heaved again.

“We were bringing out the materials to save [the victims] when the second slide came,” said Amanullah, 43, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

On Sunday, two days after the disaster, a vast sea of mud covered more than 350 one-story huts at the base of the mountain. The succession of slides entombed as many as 2,500 people, including Amanullah’s three children, who ranged in age from 3 to 6.

There appeared to be no hope of finding survivors. Some people stood on the roofs of huts on a nearby slope and gazed at the disaster site. The mud had quickly hardened into a cementlike barrier that curved around the mountain.

“It took all the people,” said Khosh Mohammad, 40, a resident. “It took all of our possessions.”

Abi-Barak, about 50 miles from Afghanistan’s northeastern border with Tajikistan, appeared surprisingly tranquil Sunday. The air smelled like a mix of dust and donkey feces.

Residents recalling the disaster spoke of a sudden, piercing roar and clouds of smoke and dust enveloping the village.

Many of those killed by the initial slide are thought to be women and children. When it struck, they were most likely to be at home while the men were out tending to crops and animals, residents said.

On Sunday, hundreds of survivors, many of whom live in huts on an adjoining slope, gathered on a ridge seeking food and shelter. Several United Nations vehicles were on the scene, but village elders were taking the lead in assessing who was in most urgent need of assistance.

“To tell you the truth, yesterday up until now, these people were only eating bread,” said Sayed Mawzoon, 35, of the Aga Khan Development Network, a private aid organization, which was helping to distribute cooking oil, flour, tents and blankets.

The U.S.-led military coalition delivered 13 tons of blankets, carpets and tents to the affected region. Shortly before dawn Sunday, two U.S. Air Force C-130s flew the supplies from Kabul to Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan province. The items were transferred to Afghan soldiers, who loaded them into trucks for the drive to Abi-Barak.

In a part of Afghanistan that remains relatively free of conflict with Taliban rebels, villagers said they were appreciative of the help. For much of the day, they crowded around bags of flour and rice stamped with the logo of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

But many of the survivors say what they need most is a new place to rebuild their community. The landslide appears to be blocking a creek that they rely upon for water, residents said. Others said they fear that the mudslide will create a dam that could eventually fill part of the valley with water.

Most of all, however, the survivors said they worry about even more landslides.

“I want the government to take us away from this dangerous situation,” said Safar Mohammed, 25, who was still trying to determine whether he had lost three or four family members in the mudslide.

Mohammed Sharif in Kabul contributed to this report.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.

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