- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

From combined dispatches
NAHRIN, Afghanistan A strong aftershock sent boulders tumbling across mountain roads yesterday, blocking efforts to rush relief supplies to tens of thousands of homeless Afghans after a devastating earthquake.
Afghan officials said the death toll was rising rapidly, well past the 2,000 feared dead earlier. But United Nations officials said the toll could be lower, expected to reach 800 to 1,200. There were 600 confirmed deaths yesterday.
The 6.1-magnitude quake struck nearly 80 villages Monday in a mountainous region nine miles in radius, leaving 100,000 people homeless or cut off from food supplies.
By Afghan standards, aid reached the quake-stricken Hindu Kush region with remarkable speed assisted by U.S. forces and international peacekeepers.
"We're here, obviously, for a combat mission, but when this unfortunate accident happened, we were standing by with our coalition partners," said Maj. Leanne Smullen, who accompanied two U.S. Chinook helicopters from Bagram air base laden with U.N. medical supplies and tents.
Despite rough, poorly maintained roads and frequent truck breakdowns, 2,000 tents, 10,000 blankets and 1,000 tons of food reached Nahrin, 105 miles north of Kabul, a little more than a day after Monday's quake, U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said.
Clothing, mattresses, cooking sets, medical supplies and surgical units also were on the way yesterday to Nahrin, about 40 miles from the quake's epicenter.
U.N. regional coordinator Fahrana Faruqi said rain was expected in the next few days, making it vital to get tents and blankets on scene.
Throughout the day, residents dug by hand through the rubble, searching for mattresses, carpets and any household goods to establish camps away from the collapsed walls and roofs of their mud-brick houses.
Relief efforts to some regions were being hampered by minefields left from 20 years of conflict, their threat multiplied by concerns that the mines had been shifted by the quake.
And a landslide prevented aid workers from reaching Burka, north of Nahrin, where aerial reconnaissance showed half of the homes in eight villages had been destroyed, leaving 800 families homeless. Road crews had just cleared the dirt mountain track to the remote region when a 5.4-magnitude jolt the strongest of many aftershocks yesterday loosened more boulders, Mr. Faruqi said.
"Casualties have mounted dramatically after new aftershocks early this morning," a Defense Ministry spokesman said.
But Mr. Faruqi said the United Nations estimated that fewer than 800 were known to have died so far and 300 people were injured.
"What we are aware of is that under 800 people have been buried, while we have 300 wounded," he told reporters.


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