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Mullah Jan, Afghanistan (AFP) June 13, 2012
An Afghan village where more than 70 people are believed to have been buried in an earthquake-triggered landslide could be declared a mass grave, an official said Wednesday.
Two shallow tremors less than half an hour apart on Monday unleashed a deluge of rock and earth that smashed into the remote village of Mullah Jan, in the mountainous Hindu Kush region.
Villagers say 71 people, all women and children, were trapped in the landslide, and a disaster management official has described the chances of anyone surviving as "slim or non-existent".
Mechanical diggers were at the site trying to clear rubble to find bodies or survivors, but Nasir Kohzad, the head of the natural disaster agency of Baghlan province, said the scale of the task made it difficult.
"Part of a mountain has collapsed on a part of Mullah Jan village and there is over 60 metres of dirt to remove," he told AFP.
Pictures from the scene showed earthmovers digging through mounds of brown dirt and rock with no visible signs of buried buildings.
Only three bodies have been recovered from Mullah Jan, Kohzad said, while a fourth was found in a neighbouring district.
Mullah Jan, the chief of the eponymous village, suggested declaring the site a mass grave and leaving the other victims' bodies to rest, Kohzad said.
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.
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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