KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 30 Afghan villagers searching for gold in a riverbed perished on Sunday in a flash flood in northeastern Badakhshan province, provincial officials said.
Along with those killed, dozens were also injured as a landslide and flash flood engulfed the river in the morning in Kohistan district, an area about 110 kilometers (68 miles), from Fayzabad, the capital of Badakhshan.
Nek Mohammad Nazari, the spokesman for the provincial governor, said the villagers had dug deep in the river, which had in the past been mined for gold, when they were caught in the flash flood. The casualty numbers could rise, he said.
The victims were villagers who were mining for gold illegally, according to the official. "Rescue teams have been dispatched to the area to help in recovering the bodies," Nazari said.
Sanaullah Rohani, spokesman for the police chief in Badakhshan, said seven of the injured were in critical condition. According to Rohani, there were about 50 people illegally looking for gold at the time of the landslide.
Fawzia Kofi, a lawmaker form Badakhshan, gave a higher death toll for the tragedy, saying that 40 villagers were killed.
Afghanistan is a mountainous, land-locked nation that has huge, largely untouched reserves of copper, iron ore, chromite, mercury, zinc, gems, including rubies and emeralds, as well as gold and silver.
Mines are scattered across different provinces of the country, but still the government has not been able to achieve investments in this important sector or establish a thriving extraction industry.