"The people of India stand with their Afghan friends in grieving for those who have perished or are missing. Our thoughts and prayers are with them in this hour of pain and sorrow. We know that the Afghan people will face up to this tragedy with their unmatched courage and fortitude."
Kabul/New Delhi, May 3 - Up to 255 bodies were recovered and identified following Friday's massive landslide in the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan, sources said Saturday as India offered assistance in relief and rehabilitation efforts.
A total of 255 bodies, including children and women, were found. They were identified, Provincial Director of Disaster Management Department Sayyed Abdullah Homayyon Dehqan told Xinhua at the site.
The tragedy occurred early Friday when a hill collapsed on a remote village in Aab Bareek area of Argo district in the mountainous province of Badakhshan with Faizabad city as its capital, 315 km northeast of Afghan capital Kabul. The natural calamity was triggered by recent heavy rains.
More than 2,100 people were confirmed dead in the mudslide, provincial government spokesman Ahmad Naweed Froutan told local media earlier Saturday.
However, Dehqan did not disclose the exact number of deaths. Most of the bodies will be buried in a graveyard later Saturday, he said.
Our estimates show that hundreds of people were buried under the mud and rubble. It has been very difficult to give you a clear number of deaths and missing now, the official said.
More than 4,500 villagers were evacuated to higher locations in the area surrounded by muddy hills. They are living in tents. The rescue teams and security forces are distributing food and clean water to them, he said.
More than 1,000 houses exist in the village. Over 300 homes are buried. The rescue teams are in the fear of collapse of the mud at the site until now, he said.
Meanwhile, rescue officials said that the site may become a massive grave as the enormous amount of rubble is making the recovery of bodies almost impossible.
The immediate focus is on approximately 700 families - displaced either directly as a result of this slide or as a precautionary measure from villages assessed to be at further risk. Key needs for them are water, medical support, counselling support, food and emergency shelter, the UN mission in the country said in a statement earlier in the day.
A number of rescuers who had rushed from adjacent villages were also reported to be killed in subsequent slides, the statement said.
Please keep in mind that the figures will remain proximate. Fear of a third landslide has hampered the rescue team operation, it said.
All the relevant UN agencies together with the Afghan Red Crescent Society and NGO partners are already at the site since Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday expressed shock at the devastating landslide and offered India's assistance in relief and rehabilitation efforts.
I am deeply shocked and saddened by the devastating natural disaster that has struck Badakhshan province in Afghanistan, he said in a statement in New Delhi.
The people of India stand with their Afghan friends in grieving for those who have perished or are missing. Our thoughts and prayers are with them in this hour of pain and sorrow. We know that the Afghan people will face up to this tragedy with their unmatched courage and fortitude.
India stands ready to provide whatever assistance and support that we can for rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts to help the victims of this enormous disaster, the prime minister said.