UN appeals for earthquake aid

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The Independent Online
ABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The United Nations issued an urgent appeal yesterday for helicopters and fuel to tackle the destruction of an earthquake which killed thousands. "We call upon everyone and anyone who can provide us with helicopters to do so now," said Alfredo Witschi-Cestari, the UN Co- ordinator for Afghanistan.

The UN said distribution of food and shelter materials was being held up because the three helicopters now in use were ferrying the injured from remote villages to medical centres.

The death toll has been climbing steadily since the 6.9-magnitude quake struck northern Afghanistan on Saturday, triggering landslides that swallowed entire villages.

Thousands of people remain missing. The devastation hit a region that is home to more than 70,000 peoples.

"For the time being, we have two helicopters in there," said Juan Fuertes Guillen, a Red Cross spokesman, in neighbouring Pakistan. "We have already started to establish priorities, carrying out medical evacuations and treating the wounded at the sites."

The Red Cross and the United Nations ferried in tons of supplies yesterday - most of them to provide emergency shelter. Up to 80 villages have been estimated to be heavily damaged, and another dozen obliterated.

The Red Cross and the UN set up mobile medical units in Shari Basurkh, 30 miles from Faizabad, capital of the northern Badakhshan province. This northern province bore the brunt of the disaster.

Germany said it will give DM500,000 (pounds 171,000) to support efforts by the Red Cross and other relief organisations. France was sending around 35 tons of aid to nearby Dushanbe, in neighbouring Tajikistan, to be transported to the disaster area. Japan, the European Union and the Netherlands are also sending assistance.

Among the hardest-hit areas was Rostaq, site of an earthquake on 4 February that killed as many as 2,300 people. Some reports said another 1,000 people died in Saturday's quake.

There were reports of heavy fighting between the Taliban religious army, which controls most of Afghanistan, and an opposition alliance which holds territory west of the region which was hit by the quake.