Afghanistan avalanche: At least 124 people dead as rescuers attempt to save those buried

Panjshir province was the worst hit area

At least 124 people have died in north-eastern Afghanistan, after heavy winter snow caused an avalanche which buried and killed residents across four provinces. 

Panjshir province, around 60 miles (100km) north-west of the capital, Kabul, was the heaviest hit, as avalanches destroyed or damaged around 100 homes, said Mohammad Aslam Syas, the deputy director of the Afghanistan Natural Disaster Management Authority.

The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers desperately used their hands to try to save those buried underneath the snow, the acting governor of Panjshir, Abdul Rahman Kabiri said.

President Ashraf Ghani sent his condolences to the families of the dead, and said he was “saddened by news of the avalanches and flooding across the country”.

He added that he had ordered urgent assessments of the extent of damage.

Heavy snowstorms which began early yesterday hampered rescue efforts, after snowfall nearly 3ft deep accumulated in some areas and fallen trees blocked roads in the Panjshir Valley.

As many as 600 families were affected by avalanches in Panjshir valley’s Dara district, according to people trying to reach the area to assist rescuers.

“People there have told me that two of my relatives have been killed and eight others are still under the snow,” an Afghan man who goes by the single name Sharafudin told reporters.

“My son and I are trying to get through to see if we can help find their bodies. But it will take us at least three or four hours to get there because of the snow and the road is very narrow, so we have to walk, the car can't get through.

”We've had no help yet from the authorities, no medicines, no machinery to open the roads so we can get to the buried houses.“

The snowfall which has covered large parts of Afghanistan and caused the tragic avalanches came towards the end of an otherwise mild and dry winter. 

Meanwhile, authorities in Parwan province have closed the strategic Salang Tunnel over avalanche fears.

Power to much of the capital has been cut since earlier this week, after power cables crossing the tunnel were damaged.

However, forecasters expected snow to start melting in the Panjshir Valley and much of the mountainous north-west of the Hindu Kush range in coming days.

As Afghanistan has suffered through some three decades of war, the subsequently weakened infrastructure outside of towns and cities means natural disasters such as landslides, floods and avalanches take a heavy toll on a country.

Additional reporting by PA

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