Afghan avalanches: Frantic bid to find buried survivors

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visits the Bargmatal district of Nuristan (07 February 2017)
Image caption President Ghani travelled to Nuristan to see the avalanche damage for himself

Frantic efforts to rescue hundreds of people feared buried under snow in northern Afghanistan are continuing with villagers using whatever digging means available to find survivors.

Local officials say at least 119 people have been killed with scores more missing in several mountainous provinces.

Entire villages in the north and east are reported to be under snow.

President Ashraf Ghani visited Nuristan province which lost at least 70 people.

He travelled to the Bargmatal district, where 57 people were killed.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Much of Afghanistan is in the grip of harsh winter conditions

"Natural disasters can hurt any country, but it is hurting us most, because the war has limited our abilities," he said. "We can't help the needy people in the way that we should."

On Monday he paid tribute to "160 countrymen [who] have been martyred" in the last six weeks, pointing out that hundreds of homes have been destroyed in snow and rainfall in Nuristan, Badakhshan, Parwan and Ghazni provinces.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption People in remote areas have had to use any means available in the hunt for survivors

A villager from Nuristan's Barg-e-Matal district told the AFP news agency that people were using "any tools possible" to dig through huge piles of snow and locate their buried loved ones.

"We have no contact with several villages and districts," Abdul Rahim said. "A lot of people are still under the snow, we have to rescue them as soon as possible."

Mr Rahim's village has been inaccessible since Sunday, when avalanches and heavy snow first struck the area.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The military are now helping out in the rescue effort

Army helicopters have been deployed to distribute aid as rescuers on the ground continue to fight their way through snowdrifts to reach remote avalanche-hit towns.

But the drifts, blocked roads and the hazardous terrain have hampered the rescue operation in Nuristan where local media have reported on the plight of villagers left to fend for themselves over the last three days.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The president says the war has impeded his country's abilities to help vulnerable avalanche victims
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The heavy snow has also badly affected livestock

Deadly avalanches are regular occurrences in Afghanistan's higher areas throughout winter and spring, and rescue efforts are often slowed down or made less effective because of shortages of equipment.

Some mountainous areas of Badakhshan are only accessible overland for three months a year.

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