Earthquake Shakes Hindu Kush, Claims 150 Lives

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 5, 2002 (ENS) - An earthquake Sunday measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale hit the Hindu Kush mountains bordering Afghanistan and was felt across a wide area of Central Asia.

In northern Afghanistan, the quake has left 150 people dead and caused a landslide that is blocking the main river which provides water to an entire province. In Kabul and the surrounding area, six persons were injured and one child was killed. Thirty-two families lost their houses, and over 100 houses were damaged. Hundreds of other families lost their homes across northern Afghanistan.

The quake, centered 150 miles (240 kilometers) north-northeast of Kabul caused buildings to sway and people to flee into the streets as far away as the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, and the Indian capital of New Delhi, residents and officials said.

This earthquake was felt in seven countries - Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It was the most significant earthquake in this general area since a magnitude 7.2 event on December 30, 1983, the USGS said. But the area has been shaken often, most recently in 1998.


Homes destroyed by the 1998 quake. (Photos courtesy Afghanistan Online)
At the bottom of a canyon in Samanghan province, the quake triggered a landslide when a 200 meters (656 foot) high mountain cliff crumbled, covering the river bed with soil, rock and trees, blocking the flow of the river.

The international humanitarian organization GOAL is sending two engineers to the Samangan province. Ray Jordan, country director of GOAL Afghanistan has just returned from the province where he flew as part of a World Food Programme assessment mission.

"Sarabagh village, which is home to around 5,000 people, has been the most severely affected," said Jordan, speaking from GOAL's base in Mazar e Sharif. "The village is at the bottom of a 200 metre high canyon. Part of this canyon collapsed covering 100 homes, and blocking the main river which provides water to the Samangan province."

"Seventy villagers have been killed," he said, "as well as 30 bus passengers who had stopped at a local tea house which is now under the landslide. Three hundred homes have been flooded, and 500 livestock have been killed. This is a terrible blow to the people of the region who were already in a desperate way following three years of drought." The area also suffered greatly during the conflict between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.


Afghani girls orphaned by the 1998 earthquake
Four hundred families in Surkunda were evacuated from the area today and given tents, food and blankets. Another 300 families were sheltered on an island surrounded by the river and will need assistance in the coming days.

The United Nations and private aid agencies have organized a mission to organize the transport of two bulldozers to clear the 30,000 cubic meters of earth now blocking the river and another to bring aid to displaced persons.

"Our immediate priorities are emergency shelter, blankets and food," said Jordan, "but the main difficulty is how to remove the debris, recover the bodies from under it, and to free the river so that it will be able supply water to thousands of people downstream."

So far, 70 bodies have been pulled from the rubble, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent. The area, already remote and difficult to access, is cut off by road due to the landslide, hampering rescue and relief efforts. Staff and volunteers from an Afghan Red Crescent health clinic in Aybak, 25 kilometers from the site, were to first to reach the area.

A high level delegation headed by Hamid Karzai, chairman of the Afghanistan Interim Authority, and including Lakhdar Brahimi, special representative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, will visit the disaster site tomorrow.