Rescuers shoveled through deep snow Wednesday searching for victims of an avalanche that destroyed a village of 200 people in northeastern Afghanistan, authorities said. Forty-seven people have been confirmed dead.
"We hope that some people were inside their homes and are still alive," said Shams Ul Rahman, the deputy governor of Badakhshan province, where the avalanche occurred on Sunday night.
"But if the snow was too heavy, they may all be dead," he added.
The Defense Ministry was sending helicopters to Dasty village in Badakhshan's Darzab region Wednesday to help with the rescue effort, Rahman 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, Rahman said. He said initial reports were that only three women and one child survived the avalanche. They were not in the village of Dasty at the time.
Mohammad Daim Kakar, general director of the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority, said at least 47 people have been confirmed dead.
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 (3,800-meter) -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 the 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, Rasekh said.
The governor and his team on Tuesday 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.
In Kabul, Badakhshan lawmaker Fawzia Kofi appealed to the international community for help in the rescue effort. She said the only rescuers who have so far been able to reach the avalanche site were people from surrounding villages.
"Nobody except local people have managed to get to that village, walking 11 hours," Kofi said. She added that Badakhshan has had a particularly deadly winter, with more than 200 people killed by avalanches in the past months.