- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

JARF, Afghanistan (AP) — Rescuers shoveled through deep snow Wednesday as they searched for victims of an avalanche that destroyed a village of about 200 people in northeastern Afghanistan, authorities said.

Fifty people have been confirmed dead, and most of the other residents of the devastated village are also believed to have perished.

Only seven people are known to have survived the avalanche, which buried dozens of homes Sunday night in Badakhshan province, said Sultanhamid, an employee of the Geneva-based Aga Khan Foundation, who hiked to the site.

Four of the survivors were injured in the avalanche in Dasty village in the Darzab area, Sultanhamid said by telephone. The three others, two women and one child, were away from the village fetching water when tons of snow came crashing down, he said.

The 50 who have been confirmed dead included three who were found alive but died later because no medical personnel have reached the site, said Sultanhamid, who uses only one name, like many Afghans. The dead also included 18 children and two teachers who were in a mosque when the avalanche hit. The bodies that have been found were buried under at least 6 feet of snow, he said.

Shams Ul Rahman, the deputy governor of Badakhshan province, expressed hope earlier in the day that some people might still be alive inside their homes.

But rescuers at the site feared there were no more survivors, said Sultanhamid, who walked to the avalanche site with 20 officials from Shakay district, where he is working on a government project. They started out at 4 a.m. Wednesday, and the trek took nine hours.

The Defense Ministry sent two helicopters to help with the rescue effort Wednesday, but they were not able to land near the village because of bad weather, Mr. Rahman said. They landed in Shakay district and plan to try again Thursday, he said.

People from a nearby village were the first to reach the site. They were joined on Tuesday by rescue workers from Darwaz district, who walked for two days to reach the remote area.

About 100 rescuers equipped only with shovels were digging through mounds of snow, looking for anyone who might have survived, Mr. Rahman said.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul expressed condolences to the families of those killed in the avalanche. USAID’s office for disaster assistance was planning to send supplies, such as tents and plastic sheeting, through a partner in Tajikistan to help the people in the area.

Deadly avalanches are common in Afghanistan’s mountainous north in winter. In February 2010, an avalanche killed more than 170 people at the 12,700-foot-high Salang Pass, which is the major route through the Hindu Kush mountains that connects the capital to the north.

At least three avalanches struck Darzab area on Sunday, said Abdul Marouf Rasekh, a provincial spokesman. The provincial governor was visiting the area when the avalanches started and was briefly stranded in a nearby village, Mr. Rasekh said.

On Tuesday the governor and his team made their way to Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, which is the closest city to the avalanche area, he said. Gov. Shah Waliullah Adeeb was expected back in Faizabad on Wednesday.

A rescue team has set out for the site from Tajikistan, said Badakhshan lawmaker Fawzia Kofi. Badakhshan has had a particularly deadly winter, with more than 200 people killed by avalanches, she said.

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