KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A massive landslide in a remote province in northeastern Afghanistan killed at least 52 people on Tuesday, a provincial official said.
The stricken area in Badakhshan province is cut off from the rest of the country, covered in snow and is only accessible from the air, significantly hampering any rescue efforts, said Shah Waliullah Adeeb, the provincial governor.
Badakhshan is one of the poorest and least-developed regions of Afghanistan. It regularly suffers huge landslides when snow begins to melt in the spring.
Tuesday’s landslide struck early in the morning in the province’s Khawahan district, near Afghanistan’s border with Tajikistan. The isolated area is located about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the provincial capital, Faizabad.
There are no roads leading to it and “the only way to reach it is by helicopter,” Adeeb said. “We won’t be able to get there today. We are preparing to go to the area and are waiting for the choppers to take us there.”
The deputy head of Afghanistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, Mohammad Islam Sayas, said initial reports suggest the avalanche struck only one village but it was likely to have been completely wiped out.
“Our emergency team is trying to get to the scene, and have requested the Defense Ministry to provide us with choppers as that is the only way to get there,” Sayas said.
Badakhshan is in the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges. Unchecked environmental degradation and deforestation across large parts of Afghanistan contribute to a growing problem of landslides when winter snows melt and seasonal rains begin.
Afghanistan has suffered through some three decades of war since the Soviet invasion in 1979. But natural disasters such as landslides, floods and avalanches have taken a toll on a country with little infrastructure or development outside of its major cities.
In May 2014, a massive landslide in Badakhshan province killed some 350 people in a remote region there. Another Afghan landslide in 2012 killed 71 people.
And in February, almost 200 people died in an avalanche in the Panjshir Valley, not far from the capital, Kabul. Heavy winter snowfall made it difficult for relief workers to reach many villagers who were stranded on their rooftops for days without food or water.