More Aid Reaches Afghan Quake Area; Toll May Hit 5,000

From Associated Press

Helicopters loaded with emergency aid reached northern Afghanistan on Monday, and soldiers searched remote villages devastated by a killer earthquake in search of buried victims.

The quake, which hit Saturday with a magnitude of 6.9, flattened villages and triggered landslides.

Aid workers and local officials believe that the death toll will reach 5,000. Thousands more are homeless.

Officials estimated that as many as 80 villages were heavily damaged and a dozen villages were wiped out.


“We saw a couple of villages that had been completely flattened, but there were probably more,” said Alfredo Witschi-Cestari, head of the U.N.'s humanitarian aid office in neighboring Pakistan.

“This is a mountainous region, and the force of the earthquake sent houses crashing down the hillsides toward the valleys below,” he said after visiting the site Sunday.

Many of the people hard hit by the quake were living in tents because they lost their homes in a devastating February temblor that struck Rostaq, killing as many as 2,300.

Tons of food, blankets, tents and plastic sheeting were loaded onto cargo helicopters Monday in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and flown to Feyzabad, capital of northern Badakhshan province. From there, the supplies will be forwarded to the areas that suffered the greatest damage.


The International Red Cross and the United Nations scrambled to establish mobile medical units in Shari Basurkh, a town near the epicenter that is 30 miles from Feyzabad. Doctors Without Borders was operating a clinic in the town, treating villagers brought in by helicopter.

The French Foreign Ministry planned to send 35 tons of humanitarian aid to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for transport to the disaster area. The International Red Cross got one plane into Feyzabad on Sunday.