- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) Chief Warrant Officer Sam Baker knew there had been a devastating earthquake here, but he was startled nonetheless by what he saw when his helicopter landed among the mounds of mud rubble that was once the town of Nahrin.
"There couldn't have been more than five or 10 houses that were intact," said Mr. Baker, 38, of Clarksville, Tenn. "It was a bad day to live in a mud house."
Mr. Baker was among the U.S. troops who flew back-and-forth missions aboard six Chinook helicopters from their air base in Bagram into Nahrin, the northern Afghan town that was all but leveled by the powerful earthquake on Monday night.
The choppers ferried water, wheat, California dates, blankets and Army food rations to Nahrin, making 15-minute stops before zooming off into the clear skies over the snow-covered mountains back to Bagram, north of Kabul.
Meanwhile, land mines disgorged by aftershocks and landslides slowed aid workers trying to reach quake victims by road.
The battered country observed a national day of mourning yesterday as it struggled to count the dead from the quake.
The 6.1-magnitude temblor heavily damaged about 80 villages in a mountainous region 9 miles wide, leaving an estimated 100,000 people homeless or cut off from food supplies.
The United Nations said the death toll stood at about 600 yesterday, but the final toll was expected to be between 800 and 1,200.
Soldiers who made the aid runs described a valley crowded with mud heaps that had once been homes.
"We expected some damage, but coming from the States, and how the houses are made there, it was pretty tragic," said 1st Lt. Jeremy Bell, 24, of Springfield. "The land had come up and the walls collapsed."
Many of the homeless survivors have taken shelter in white tents provided by the United Nations, but the soldiers said they saw some people camping alongside the ruins of their homes, or trying to get back inside to retrieve their meager belongings.
Local Afghans were expecting the Chinooks, and the Americans were greeted by waving Northern Alliance soldiers, many with weapons.
"It was a little weird seeing the Northern Alliance come running up to us with AK-47s," Lt. Bell said.
The area around Nahrin was controlled by the Taliban until the hard-line militia collapsed last year under intense U.S. bombing and ground attacks by the opposition Northern Alliance.


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