A massive landslide in a remote province in northeastern Afghanistan killed at least 52 people Tuesday, a provincial official said.
The stricken area, in Badakhshan province, is cut off from the rest of the country, covered in snow and accessible only from the air, significantly hampering rescue efforts, said Shah Waliullah Adeeb, the provincial governor.
Badakhshan is one of the poorest and least-developed regions of Afghanistan. It regularly suffers huge landslides when snow begins to melt in the spring.
Tuesday's landslide struck early in the morning in the province's Khawahan district, near Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan. The isolated area is about 125 miles from the provincial capital, Faizabad.
There are no roads leading to it, and "the only way to reach it is by helicopter," Adeeb said. "We won't be able to get there today. We are preparing to go to the area and are waiting for the choppers to take us there."
The deputy head of Afghanistan's National Disaster Management Authority, Mohammad Islam Sayas, said that initial reports suggest the avalanche struck only one village but that it was likely to have been completely wiped out.
"Our emergency team is trying to get to the scene and have requested the Defense Ministry to provide us with choppers, as that is the only way to get there," he said.
Badakhshan includes the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges. Unchecked environmental degradation and deforestation across large parts of Afghanistan contribute to a growing problem of landslides when winter snows melt and seasonal rains begin.
Afghanistan has suffered through war and recurrent conflict for much of the time since the Soviet invasion in 1979. And natural disasters such as landslides, floods and avalanches have taken a toll on the country, which has little infrastructure or development outside its major cities.
In May 2014 a massive landslide in a remote part of Badakhshan killed some 350 people. Another Afghan landslide in 2012 killed 71.