RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. There is more grim news out of Afghanistan this weekend. As many as 2,500 people are feared dead after two devastating landslides in the northeastern part of the country Friday. Torrential rains caused a hillside to collapse, burying hundreds of homes and more than 30 feet of mud.
Now the UN mission in Afghanistan is working to get water and medicine to the area. And they'll need emergency shelters for the thousands of others who have been displaced. Heavy rains continue and fears that the unstable hillside could collapse again. Yaroslav Trofimov is the Wall Street Journal's Afghanistan Bureau chief. He joins us now from Kabul. Yaroslav, what more can you tell us about what happened?
YAROSLAV TROFIMOV: Well, there are conflicting reports about exactly how many people have been killed. What is clear is that an entire village has been submerged by the mudslides. But what we do know is that several other villages are at risk because the mountains are sort of very unstable there.
The mudslide that happened has blocked a river that can burst and flood. So the focus right now is on helping those people in the other villages. Many of them have had to leave their homes with all the - anything they could carry with them. They have no shelter, no food and no water. And that's really the focus of international recovery right now.
MARTIN: I imagine it's difficult to get a real grip on the devastation and how many people have been killed because this is such a remote area, which also complicates rescue recovery efforts. Are those efforts still going on?
TROFIMOV: Well, there is no rescue effort at all because the amount of mud that buried this village is so gigantic that there is no hope of finding any survivors. So already yesterday, the UN and the other relief agencies said that they will not even attempt to recover the dead that will be buried under this mountain of mud.
What they're trying to do is to help the people who can be helped, people of the other villages who are struggling with the elements and need international help to survive.
MARTIN: Is there infrastructure set up to help get aid to these people? I mean, are they getting the temporary shelters they need, food, medicine?
TROFIMOV: They're getting some things. The Afghan Army is deployed in the area, and they do have helicopters. So as of yesterday, they have been flying some supplies and some aid to them. The international relief agencies with the UN have also been sending flights to the provincial capital of Badakhshan Province, Faizabad, which has an airport. And from there on, ferrying aid by helicopters. So the relief effort is just beginning.
MARTIN: Of course, this tragedy is happening in the midst of Afghanistan's runoff presidential election. Can you tell us where that stands at this point?
TROFIMOV: Well, the election is sort of in a pause right now because the two top vote getters are supposed to have a runoff probably sometime in mid-June. But right now, they're still counting the final numbers. And the top vote-getter, Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister, who got some 45 percent of the vote, is appealing the result because he thinks that once all the fraud complaints are indicated, he may actually have scored more than 50 percent in the first round.
MARTIN: According to your reporting, how are Afghans feeling about their choice in this runoff?
TROFIMOV: Well, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the election. And the turnout was surprisingly high, and the Afghans really felt this was a moment of change. Abdullah Abdullah, the leading contender, he's half Tajik, half Pashtun, whereas other leaders, traditionally were Pashtuns.
So if he manages to get votes in the south and the east of the country in the Pashtun heartland. That would really show that the ethnic politics of Afghanistan is getting less important. And people are focusing more on ideologies and programs rather than the ethnic background.
MARTIN: Yaroslav Trofimov is the Kabul bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. He joined us on the line from Kabul. Thanks so much for your time.
TROFIMOV: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.