The death toll from three days of heavy snow across Afghanistan rose to 54 on Sunday and there were fears the toll could rise as rescuers began clearing roads to remote areas.
Avalanches destroyed scores of homes and blocked roads in central and northeastern provinces, a spokesman for the ministry of natural disasters told AFP. “So far, 54 persons have lost their lives and 52 were injured as a result of avalanches and freezing weather in 22 provinces,” said Mohammad Omar Mohammadi.
He said 168 houses were destroyed and 340 cattle killed. Authorities fear the toll may rise sharply because rescue crews have yet to reach some of the worst-hit areas.
In the badly hit northeastern province of Badakhshan at least 18 people, including three women and two children, were killed when avalanches hit their houses overnight, said provincial spokesman Naweed Frotan. “Several dozens are still trapped, we are trying to rescue them,” he said, adding that many roads were still blocked.
Five people were killed by avalanches in the Balkhab district of Sari Pul province in northern Afghanistan and at least 70 people trapped under the snow were being rescued, said provincial spokesman Zabiullah Amani. “The roads to Balkhab are still blocked and we are trying to open them,” he said. Freezing weather killed at least two people and over 100 animals in the western province of Badghis. In Parwan province just north of Kabul, the spokesman for governor Wahid Sediqqi said 16 people died. The government declared Sunday, a normal working day in Afghanistan, to be a public holiday to deter non-essential travel and ensure schools were closed.
Unusually, snow even fell in the southern province of Kandahar. Neighbouring Pakistan was also hit by severe weather, with at least 13 people killed in the northwest by avalanches or heavy rain. An avalanche smashed into eight homes in the village of Shershal in Chitral district, killing nine people including four women and four children. The region has been hit by heavy snowfall that is four feet (1.2 metres) deep in some places.
Six people who had been trapped beneath the snow were rescued. A separate avalanche killed a soldier at a border checkpoint in Chitral district, a military statement said, while six more soldiers were injured. Chitral district mayor Maghfriat Shah said the city’s airport was shut because of the weather. The region’s electricity supply was also disrupted after the main power line was damaged. In the Khyber tribal district on the Afghan border in the northwest, three infant girls were killed and two women injured when the roof of their house collapsed in heavy rain.
Deadly avalanches are common in Afghanistan’s mountainous areas in winter and rescue efforts are frequently hampered by lack of equipment.
Despite billions of dollars in international aid after the ousting of the Taliban government in 2001, Afghanistan remains among the world’s poorest nations.
Last month heavy snowfall and freezing weather killed 27 children, all under the age of five, in Jawzjan province in northern Afghanistan.