2,000 feared dead in Afghan earthquake

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The Independent Online

An estimated 2,000 people are dead after an earthquake shook a wide area of Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan, the United Nations said today.

The death toll reached 1,800, with five villages destroyed and 10,000 left homeless in the Nahrin region about 90 miles north of Kabul.

The US Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado said the 5.9 magnitude quake was centered about 105 miles north of Kabul in the Hindu Kush mountains.

At the scene, the military commander from the Baglan region where the 5.9-magnitude quake struck last night said the devastating force collapsed 20,000 mud-brick houses with as many as 600-1,000 people remained trapped inside. The toll could rise to 2,000, Gen. Haider Khan said.

Earthquakes and seismic activity are common in this part of the world and particularly in the Hindu Kush mountains, though they are not usually felt over such a wide area. A 7.2-magnitude quake centered 150 miles in the Hindu Kush mountains on 3 March killed more than 100 people, while a 6.9-magnitude quake in the same region on 30 May 1998 killed more than 5,000 people.

Although yesterday's quake was weaker than the one on 3 March, it was more shallow - about 40 miles from the surface - meaning it is more likely to cause damage, said Waverly Person, a USGS geophysicist.

Hamid Karzai, the interim leader of the Afghan government, postponed his trip to Turkey because of the earthquake, an Afghan minister told the Afghan Islamic Press.

Because of primitive communications in Afghanistan, it often takes days for damage reports to become available.