Rescue teams abandoned the search for survivors today after a landslide buried a hillside village in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 300 people under a fast-moving tide of rock and mud.
Local people and emergency workers using shovels tried in vain to find victims trapped under the massive landslide that engulfed Aab Bareek village in Badakhshan province.
Officials said that the final death toll could rise as high as 500 after yesterday's disaster, updating earlier information that 2,500 people were feared dead.
"Based on our reports, 300 houses are under the debris," Badakhshan governor Shah Waliullah Adeeb told reporters at the scene. "We have a list of around 300 people confirmed dead.
"We cannot continue the search and rescue operation anymore, as the houses are under metres of mud. We will offer prayers for the victims and make the area a mass grave."
Relief teams arrived at first light today to be confronted by the enormous scale of destruction and hundreds of homeless families who had spent a night in the open.
"The first figure (of 2,500 feared dead) that we announced was obtained from local people, not from our technical team," Gul Mohammad Bedar, the deputy governor of Badakhshan, told AFP.
"We think the death toll will not rise beyond 500."
Many villagers were at Friday prayers in two mosques when they were entombed by the torrent of debris, and a second landslide hit people who had rushed to assist those in need.
"I have lost my sister, my house was partially destroyed," Noor Mohammad, 45, told AFP.
"We can not really get anyone out of the debris. We have lost hope of rescuing anyone."
President Hamid Karzai expressed his condolences to those affected, and announced a national day of mourning tomorrow.
The UN mission in Afghanistan said its staff had been working on the ground, along with the Afghan Red Crescent and other aid groups.
"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," UNAMA said in a statement.
The European Union's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva offered their condolences to families of victims of the disaster and said the EU stood ready to help.
"The High Representative and the Commissioner are deeply concerned and saddened to hear of the devastating landslide reported to have claimed the lives of many inhabitants of the Badakshan province in Afghanistan," they said in a statement.
"The European Union is following closely the situation in coordination with the Afghan authorities and relevant international partners [and] is ready to provide assistance.