More than 70 feared dead in Afghan quakes

More than 70 people, most women and children, are feared dead after a landslide triggered by a double earthquake engulfed their Afghan village, officials said on Tuesday.

Two shallow quakes less than half an hour apart shook the mountainous Hindu Kush region Monday, starting a slide of earth and rock that smashed into a remote village, burying mudbrick houses to a depth of up to 100 metres (300 feet).

People in the village of Mullah Jan, in Burka district, the worst-hit area in the province of Baghlan, said 71 people were trapped. An official described the chances of survival as "slim or non-existent".

Mohammad Daiem Kakar, the head of the national disaster management agency, said the landslide had moved the entire village 20 to 30 metres down the mountainside.

Two bodies have been recovered from the village and 69 others -- all women and children, as the men were out working on their farms when the disaster struck -- are still missing, Kakar said.

"According to the village elders and relatives of the victims, there were 27 boys, 24 girls and 20 women missing," he told AFP.

"The chance for anyone to survive is very very slim or non-existent. The entire village has been relocated and brought down with earth down below the mountains.

"Throughout yesterday and today there have been no sign of bodies despite digging in some parts up to 20 metres down into the earth."

A bulldozer was at work digging through the rubble at Mullah Jan, according to Rafiullah Rasoolzai, spokesman for the disaster response agency, who said emergency supplies of food, water and shelter had been brought in.

Provincial governor Munshi Abdul Majeed earlier said the sheer volume of soil made digging work very difficult.

"They might be dead as there is a lot of soil and removing this is very, very hard," he said.

"We have sent excavators to the area but I don't think they will be able to do much."

Baghlan Police chief Assadullah Shirzad said around 100 security forces were helping the search.

The first quake on Monday, with a magnitude of 5.4, struck at 9:32 am (0502 GMT) at a depth of 15 kilometres (10 miles) with the epicentre around 160 kilometres southwest of the town of Faizabad.

A more powerful tremor, measured at 5.7 magnitude, hit around 25 minutes later in almost exactly the same place, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.

Buildings were felt shaking slightly in Kabul, around 170 kilometres to the south, during both quakes.

Northern Afghanistan and Pakistan are frequently hit by earthquakes, especially around the Hindu Kush range, which lies near the collision of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in Pakistan in October 2005 killed 74,000 people and displaced 3.5 million.

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