NO fewer than 70 people were feared to have been killed in Afghanistan after a landslide triggered by a double earthquake buried homes under earth and rock, according to government officials.
A report by Agence France Presse (AFP) claimed that two shallow quakes less than half an hour apart shook the mountainous Hindu Kush region on Monday, starting a slide of debris that smashed into a remote village, burying mud brick houses to a depth of up to 100 metres.
In Burka district, the worst-hit area in the province of Baghlan, people in the village of Mullah Jan said 71 people had been trapped. An official who asked not to be named described the chances of survival as “very slim”.
Officials have so far confirmed that only three bodies have been recovered, while six injured people have been rescued.
A bulldozer was at work digging through the rubble at Mullah Jan, according to Rafiullah Rasoolzai, spokesman for the disaster response agency, who said emergency supplies of food, water and shelter had been brought in.
“Villagers told Afghan government representatives that 71 people are missing,” he said.
“They’re buried in their home under between 30 and 100 metres of dirt and earth.”
Provincial governor, Munshi Abdul Majeed, earlier said the sheer volume of soil made digging work very difficult.
“They might be dead as there is a lot of soil and removing this is very, very hard,” he said.
“We have sent excavators to the area but I don’t think they will be able to do much.”
Baghlan Police chief Assadullah Shirzad said around 100 security forces were helping the search.
The first quake on Monday, with a magnitude of 5.4, struck at 9:32 am (0502 GMT) at a depth of 15 kilometres (10 miles) with the epicentre around 160 kilometres southwest of the town of Faizabad.
A more powerful tremor, measured at 5.7 magnitude, hit around 25 minutes later in almost exactly the same place, the United States (U.S.) Geological Survey (USGS) said.
Buildings were felt shaking slightly in Kabul, around 170 kilometres to the south, during both quakes.
Northern Afghanistan and Pakistan are frequently hit by earthquakes, especially around the Hindu Kush range, which lies near the collision of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in Pakistan in October 2005 killed 74,000 people and displaced 3.5 million.
Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday said NATO had agreed not to carry out air strikes on residential areas even in self-defence, apparently contradicting comments made by senior coalition commanders.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) ordered an end to air strikes on homes except as a last resort to ensure the defence of troops, Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti, deputy commander of US forces, said on Monday.
The order came after General John Allen, the head of the coalition force, flew to Logar province, south of Kabul, to apologise over the deaths of civilians, including women and children, in an air raid last week.
But at a news conference on Tuesday, the Afghan leader said the agreement did not allow air strikes even in self-defence.