- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan An earthquake devastated mountain villages in northern Afghanistan, where officials yesterday estimated at least 1,800 people died and thousands more were injured in a region already hard-hit by hunger, drought and war.
At the scene, the military commander from the Baglan region said the Monday night quake knocked down 20,000 mud-brick houses. Gen. Haider Khan estimated between 600 and 1,000 people remained trapped and said the death toll could hit 2,000.
Yusuf Nuristani, a government spokesman, told reporters in Kabul that the death toll had reached 1,800 by yesterday afternoon with 2,000 injured.
Kabul television later reported that 5,000 were hurt. In Geneva, U.N. spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said Afghan authorities had initially reported the death toll could reach 4,800.
Aid agencies said thousands perhaps tens of thousands were homeless, as aftershocks continued to jolt the majestic Hindu Kush mountains that tower over Kabul and separate the capital from the extreme north of the country.
There were fears of landslides as the earth continued to heave after the Monday night quake, which was centered about 105 miles north of Kabul.
No Americans or foreigners were known to be among the missing or dead. Brig. Gen. John Rosa Jr. said at a Pentagon briefing that no coalition forces were hurt by the quake.
The old part of Nahrin town was leveled and some 40 other villages on Nahrin plain were affected, prompting aid groups to gear up to provide shelter for 6,000 to 7,000 families in that area alone, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Alemida e Silva said.
"These people were hit by 20 years of war, three to four years of drought and now comes the earthquake," said Mirielle Borne, an aid worker with the independent French agency ACTED, the agency for technical cooperation and develpment, who arrived in the stricken town as night fell yesterday.
"It just keeps piling up. They just take it as it comes. It's a matter of holding on to the next day."
Immediate concerns included getting water, food and shelter to the area, where 80 percent of the families had been targeted before the quake to receive wheat from the U.N. World Food Program.
Miss Borne said she expected villagers from even more remote regions to arrive in district centers by donkey or on foot in coming days, seeking help and bringing word of additional damage and casualties.
The only good news, she said, was the weather. "It is cold, but there is no rain or snow, and people are either sleeping at relatives homes or are sheltering in the rubble."
An aftershock hit the region last night, reinforcing fears of going back inside poorly constructed houses. Many people were sleeping outdoors, the U.N. spokesman said, with temperatures expected to remain above freezing, in the 40s.
Afghan Defense Ministry official Mira Jan said 600 bodies had been recovered. Kabul television reported that 12,000 yards of white cloth had been sent to wrap the dead from the second fatal earthquake in the area this month.
Many people in the rural region were at home when the quake struck about 7:30 p.m. Monday, accounting for the high death toll, officials said.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was relatively shallow about 40 miles beneath the surface meaning it had the power to cause more damage.
Many roads were impassable, and six Afghan army helicopters were flown to the region to remove the dead and transport immunization experts, medical kits and officials. The U.S. Army, the international peacekeeping force and aid agencies were mobilizing aid and experts.

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