The head of Afghanistan’s emergency management department said Wednesday that a string of recent avalanches has killed at least 124 people in the country’s northeast provinces, reports the AP. The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers search for survivors.
Mohammad Aslam Syas, deputy director of the Afghanistan Natural Disaster Management Authority, told the AP that the Panjshir province was the worst hit, with 100 homes destroyed or damaged. Heavy winter snow set off the avalanches; storms dropped three feet of snow in places, bringing down trees and stalling rescue efforts. Abdul Rahman Kabiri, acting governor of Panjshir, said rescuers were trying to excavate houses and reach survivors with their bare hands and shovels.
A total of 600 families have been affected by avalanches in the province’s Dara district, according to people trying to assist in rescue efforts quoted by the AP. “We’ve had no help from the authorities, no medicines, no machinery to open the roads so we can get to the buried houses,” an Afghan man named Sharafudin said as he drove his car through crawling traffic trying to get into the Panjshir Valley.
“We have tried to clear the central road of the province to pave the way for assistance to get through. The assistance, however, has not yet arrived,” Kabiri told the BBC, saying they needed to clear 25 miles of snow-clogged roads to reach the affected areas. Panjshir lies 60 miles northeast of the capital Kabul, and if the death toll does rise, the avalanches could claim more lives than the 20 avalanches that hit the Salang area in 2010, which killed at least 165 people.