- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan A powerful earthquake rocked Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, killing about 1,800 people and injuring 2,000, Afghan officials said today. The Afghan Defense Ministry said 600 bodies were recovered from villages still shaking from aftershocks.
ACTED, a private aid organization, estimated 10,000 people had been left homeless, basing its numbers on reports from staff in the devastated area near Nahrin, 90 miles north of Kabul on the slopes of the Hindu Kush mountains.
At the scene, regional commander Gen. Aider Khan said as many as 1,500 to 2,000 people were missing. Many of Nahrin's residents spent the night without food or shelter because nearly all of their homes were destroyed.
Officials said many people were at home when the quake struck at 7:26 p.m. yesterday, and during the frequent strong aftershocks overnight, accounting for the high death toll.
"People were caught in their homes," said Nigel Fisher, a senior U.N. official in Afghanistan.
Yusuf Nuristani, a spokesman for the interim Afghan administration, said the quake measured magnitude at 6.2, though the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., said it was magnitude 5.9 and centered 105 miles north of Kabul. The quake was relatively shallow, just 40 miles below the surface and likely to cause heavy damage.
A 7.2-magnitude quake in the Hindu Kush mountains on March 3 killed more than 100 people. That quake was the strongest in the region since 1983, but was much deeper than yesterday's about 150 miles below the surface.
Mr. Nuristani said about 1,800 people were killed in yesterday's quake. Earlier, in Geneva, U.N. spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said Afghan authorities had initially told them the death toll could reach 4,800.
By early afternoon, 600 bodies had been pulled from the wreckage of collapsed homes, said Defense Ministry official Mira Jan.
"I can say that 90 percent of Nahrin has been destroyed," Ms. Jan said. "We asked (peacekeepers) and all other humanitarian non-governmental organizations to help the people there because they lost everything. They need tents, medicines, everything."
By late afternoon, about 400 people had been wrapped in white cotton shrouds and buried in and around Nahrin some of them in mass graves, said Nurullah, secretary of commander Haider Khan, speaking from Nahrin.
About 200 wounded were taken to Pul-e-Kumri and Baglan by helicopter, bus and trucks, while some 70 people were treated in Nahrin. But Gen. Khalil, a military commander from Pul-e-Kumri, said rescuers didn't have enough helicopters to transport all the wounded. Roads in the area were blocked by rubble and impassable.
"The condition is very terrible," Mr. Nurullah told The Associated Press by satellite telephone. "The people are in a very bad condition."
"Everyone is trying to find the members of their families to bring them out of the destroyed walls or collapsed areas," he said. "The earthquake is going on, and each time, the people are very afraid."
Interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai canceled a trip to Turkey scheduled tomorrow to manage the disaster, Nuristani said, adding that officials had allocated $600,000 for immediate aid.
Mr. Karzai planned to visit the affected area soon, a government minister told the Afghan Islamic Press.
The U.S. Army at Bagram air base sent a small assessment team to the affected area to decide if American troops could play a role in rescue and recovery efforts, said spokesman Maj. Bryan Hilgerty.
The Bush administration also has pledged assistance to the interim government and local people dealing with the tragedy, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said.
Health Minister Dr. Suhaila Sidiq and Gen. Mostapha of the Defense Ministry had reached the quake area. Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni also planned a visit soon.
U.N. spokesman Yusuf Hassan said five villages in the quake area were destroyed. The region, which has been hard-hit by drought and food shortages, is home to an estimated 82,000 people.
Mr. Hassan said aid groups were trying to get tents and other emergency supplies to the homeless there.
ACTED was providing 2,000 tents and 1,000 blankets, U.N. spokeswoman Rebecca Richards said in Kabul. The World Food Program was sending 175 tons of food to the area.
U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the United Nations also was rushing emergency aid to the scene. He said preliminary reports indicated more than 200 houses were damaged around the village of Nahrin.
The Nahrin offices of ACTED, a French organization, were destroyed.
"Each five or 10 minutes there is a shake still going on," said Shoja Zare, an ACTED radio operator in Kabul who was in contact with colleagues in Nahrin. "There is no hospital, there is no doctor to help these people."
Earthquakes and seismic activity are common in this region particularly in the Hindu Kush mountains though they are not usually felt over such a wide area. Two strong quakes in February and May of 1998 killed nearly 10,000 people.


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