After Heavy Rain, Afghan Landslide, Thousands Missing

May 3, 2014

Stuff happens.
But as this week’s retaining wall collapse in Baltimore shows, stuff happens a lot more frequently when you push it with weather extremes.


Rescuers in Afghanistan are sifting through mud for a second day after a landslide that is feared to have buried at least 2,000 people.

The UN said more than 350 bodies had been recovered in the remote north-east Afghan province of Badakhshan.

Hundreds of homes were buried on Friday when a section of a mountain collapsed following torrential rain. A second landslide then followed, killing the rescuers who had rushed in to help dig people out.

Local police handed out bread and water to the thousands of people who spent the night without shelter. Much of north and east Afghanistan has been hit by heavy rain in recent days.

‘Mass grave’

The provincial governor and UN officials told the BBC that more than 2,000 people were missing, feared dead.

The Landslide Blog:

The tragic landslide in Argo District of Badakhshan Province, NE Afghanistan yesterday is now believed to have killed at least 350 people, making it the worst landslide of 2014 to date. The best coverage has come from the Twitter account of a BBC correspondent, Bilal Sarwary, who has tweeted a number of images of the slide and the village.  These are the best two to date, showing first the Badakhshan landslide itself – above and below.

The landslide came after prolonged heavy rainfall in the region.  Unfortunately, the middle of the day on a Friday is a time when many people are likely to be at home. Bilal Sarwary reports that at the time of the landslide there was a wedding party.  The slide occurred in two phases, with an initial slide that buried many people.  In the aftermath, many people from local villages went to help, only to be buried by the second landslide.  The prospect of finding survivors seems very low.

Was the Badakhshan landslide a loess failure?

The fine-grained texture of the landslide (note the lack of obvious boulders) and the high mobility of the landslide suggests to me that this was a loess landslide.  Shroder et al. (2011) identified 34 large loess landslides in this area of Afghanistan, with saturation and liquefaction being a common cause.  They also noted that farming practices, and in particular irrigation, can increase the likelihood of landslides in these materials.  I have reported on loess landslides previously, most often in China, such as this example from Shaanxi in 2009. and this smallerearthquake induced event from Gansu.

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