UK charities join Afghan rescue bid
British charities are urgently mobilising teams to help with the rescue effort after a massive landslide is feared to have buried 2,700 people in a village in Afghanistan.
The UN has said at least 350 people were killed when the mudslide struck in the remote north-eastern province of Badakhshan yesterday.
But the death toll is expected to spiral, and there are fears that heavy rain in the area will lead to further landslides and more casualties.
British charities were among the first on the scene, providing crucial medical assistance to families caught up in the natural disaster.
The health charity Merlin, which is part of Save the Children, sent five ambulances to the mountain village, where locals are using shovels and their bare hands to dig through the deep mud in a desperate search for survivors.
Onno Van Manen, acting country director for Save the Children in Afghanistan, said: "Merlin is currently responding to the landslides in Badakhshan, where over 2,000 people are feared dead and over 4,000 displaced.
"They have dispatched five ambulances, set up mobile health clinics, and have medical staff on stand-by to support the injured in this disaster.
"Assessment reports show up to six metres of mud in the worst-affected areas, and the displaced population need urgent medical support for injuries sustained.
"Save the Children is in the midst of a merger with Merlin in Afghanistan, and is supporting them in their relief efforts in Badakhshan. The children's aid agency is also currently responding to the floods in northern Afghanistan, providing life-saving food, water, shelter, and other essential items."
At least 300 homes were buried when part of a hill collapsed in the village at around 1pm yesterday afternoon local time.
Many of those killed in the onslaught had rushed to the scene to help locals stuck down by an earlier, smaller landslide.
A dangerous mixture of heavy rain and melting snow has caused flooding in the area, which caused part of the hill to collapse.
And there are fears that further landslides could be on the way, with 250 homes at "immediate risk", according to Save the Children.
Humanitarian crews are focusing on getting medical assistance and finding shelter for the thousands of villagers caught up in the tragedy.
Mark Bowden, the humanitarian co-ordinator for Afghanistan, told Sky News: "Currently the upper assessment of deaths is 2,700 people, but we are still trying to officiate that.
"We have at least 4,500 people who have been displaced."
He said international forces have donated a C130 aircraft which will prove "invaluable" in getting food to the area.
A string of other charities are assessing the disaster zone and expect to start providing relief over the next 24 hours.
Oxfam's Afghanistan country director John Watt said the organisation is "readying a response".
He said: "As the search and rescue operation continues, the immediate needs of over 1,000 families must urgently be met.
"While communications are proving difficult, we can expect providing clean water, food, and temporary shelter will be the most urgent priorities."
He added: "Beyond immediate humanitarian needs, the affected communities will need ongoing support to rebuild their lives and livelihoods in order to recover from this tragedy."
The Birmingham-based charity Islamic Relief said it is also sending a disaster response team to help the relief effort, while Unicef said it is " assessing the most urgent needs and mobilising a response".
As charities descended on the disaster zone to embark upon the tricky task of distributing desperately-needed relief to thousands of villagers, politicians passed on their condolences to those killed in the tragedy.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: "I send my deepest sympathies to those affected by the tragic landslide in Afghanistan's Badakhshan province.
"A full picture of the remote disaster is still emerging, but it is clear there has been a significant loss of life and many people are in need of emergency relief. Our priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of the survivors."
She said Britain is monitoring the situation and "stands ready to provide further assistance as needed".
Foreign Office Minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi tweeted: "Deeply saddened by news of devastating mudslide in #Afghanistan. Thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families."
International troops are also standing ready to lend a hand in the large-scale rescue effort.
Lee Litzenberger, Nato senior civilian representative, said: "The priority now is to save as many lives as possible. This is the second natural disaster in a week in Afghanistan to cause substantial loss of life and destruction of Afghan homes and villages. Nato has always stood by its Afghan partners, and we will do so now as they respond to this tragedy."