KABUL – The death toll from severe weather that caused avalanches and flooding across much of Afghanistan has jumped to more than 200 people, and the number is expected to climb with cold weather and difficult conditions hampering rescue efforts, relief workers and U.N. officials said Friday.
After days of severe weather across the central and northeastern provinces, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 229 people dead in at least 18 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, with hundreds more left homeless after avalanches destroyed their homes. Many more remained cut off from help as roads were blocked by deep snow from heavy storms early this week, it said.
Extremely cold temperatures were expected in many parts of the country in coming days, OCHA said.
Officials said the harsh conditions and lack of machinery were hampering efforts to reach people trapped, injured or dead. The army and some international agencies were delivering food, medicines, clothing and shelter to some of the hardest-hit areas, including far northern Badakhshan and Panjshir in the northeast.
Mohammad Aslam Syas, deputy chief of the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority, said the army was distributing supplies to people in areas of Panjshir, 100 kilometres northeast of the capital Kabul, because it was still unreachable by road.
He said 165 people were so far known to have died in the province when avalanches on Tuesday buried homes in the northern Panjshir Valley. “Helicopters are dropping medicines, blankets and other necessary items to remote areas of Panjshir,” he said.
Panjshir’s acting Gov. Abdul Rahman Kabiri said President Ashraf Ghani was due to inspect the damage to the northern reaches of the valley later on Friday.
Casualties were expected to climb as agencies reach the remote avalanche and flood-hit areas.
The Salang Tunnel, which links Kabul to northern Afghanistan, remained closed, and power supplies in the capital were intermittent.
Afghanistan has suffered through some three decades of war since the Soviet invasion in 1979. But natural disasters such as landslides, floods and avalanches have also taken a heavy toll on a country with little infrastructure or development outside of its major cities.
In May, a massive landslide killed anywhere from 250 to 2,700 people, authorities said at the time. Another landslide in 2012 killed 71 people. Authorities were not able to recover the vast majority of bodies and ended up declaring the site a mass grave.