Earthquakes Rumble Across Afghanistan, 1,800 Dead

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 26, 2002 (ENS) - A series of earthquakes, the strongest measuring 6.0 on the Richter Scale, hit the Hindu Kush mountains in northeast Afghanistan starting last night and continuing this morning. The Afghanistan Interim Authority estimates the number of dead at 1,800 with 1,200 bodies counted so far.

Nearly 4,000 people were injured in the earthquakes. About 1,500 homes were destroyed and 20,000 people have been left without shelter.

The epicentre of the quakes is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Kabul, in Nahrin district, Baghlan province.

Minister for Water and Natural Resources Haji Mangal Hussain told the Pakistan based Afghan Islamic Press that the town of Nahrin, population 10,000, has been almost 90 percent destroyed. "Most shops and houses in Nahrin were destroyed and most people have fled for the hills," he said.

The office of the French NGO ACTED in Nahrin was among the buildings that collapsed as a result of the quakes, but radio communication remained intact. ACTED is a partner of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office.

Out of the three access roads to the affected area, two are currently blocked and the only access route that remains is from Kilaghai.

Chairman of the Afghanistan Interim Authority, Hamid Karzai, has convened an emergency meeting of all ministries to discuss the ways to deal with the disaster.

Troops from the British led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul has been asked to help with rescue efforts, said UN spokeswoman Rebecca Richards.

An assessment team including members of ISAF, which represents 17 countries, plus United Nations agencies flew from Kabul to the disaster scene in a helicopter provided by ISAF. The team is expected back tonight when another emergency meeting will be convened in Kabul with Chairman Karzai.

In Nahrin, a coordination center made up of four key partners - the Ministry of Reconstruction, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), ACTED and ISAF - will be established in conjunction with the local authorities.

The Afghanistan Interim Authority has also dispatched an assessment team which is currently on its way to the affected area. Another assessment team consisting of UN agencies and private agency aid workers left for the stricken area from Mazar-i-Sharif, and is expected to reach the disaster site later today.

The UNOCHA regional coordinator in Mazar-i-Sharif is organizing the dispatch of winter clothing, blankets, tents, food and non-food items, emergency kits and body bags. Road travel from Mazar to the affected area takes approximately five hours the use of helicopters is being considered.

Earthquakes are frequent in the Hindu Kush. In January, an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter Scale that shook the mountainous region was felt across 400 miles from Islamabad, to Srinagar, India.