Big 7.2 Quake Hits Afghanistan -
At Least Five Dead

By Brian Williams

KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake struck northern Afghanistan Sunday, killing at least five people and injuring 31 others in the capital Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad.
The quake, which hit at 4:38 p.m., caused buildings to sway and people to flee into the streets as far apart as the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, the Pakistani capital Islamabad and the Indian capital New Delhi, residents and officials said.
"At least 30 houses (in Kabul) collapsed or were badly damaged," a spokesman for Afghanistan's Information Ministry said.
Carolyn Bell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Geological Survey's office in Washington, said the quake measured 7.2 on the Richter scale and had a depth of 120 miles.
"With an earthquake of that depth, there is a great potential for landslides," she said.
With the quake rocking a vast swathe of land stretching from Central to South Asia, much of it rugged and remote mountains, the extent of damage and casualties was not immediately clear.
A spokesman for Edhi ambulance service in Islamabad said about three hours after the quake: "We made checks all over the country and there was no still report of any deaths or serious injuries due to the earthquake."
The quake was the fourth to shake Tajikistan this year. Last month a quake centered 60 miles northeast of Dushanbe killed three children and made 600 people homeless.
In Kabul, a 45-year-old man was killed when a wall in his yard collapsed. His 12-year-old son was slightly injured.
"We all ran out of the house and were standing close to the wall when it collapsed," a relative said.
Fragile mud houses in poor districts of Kabul and across the border near the Pakistani city of Peshawar partially collapsed. One Peshawar hospital said it had treated around a dozen people for minor injuries.
In the Afghan city of Jalalabad, 11 female students were injured, one of them critically, when a staircase at Allai Girls' School collapsed as they tried to flee the building, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news service said. Business came to an abrupt halt in Kabul's main market, with vendors clinging to their goods as the ground heaved.
"I have lived here for 50 years and never felt anything that strong," said Mohammad Reza Amiri, a cook.
The quake was also felt farther to the northwest in Mazar-i-Sharif, but residents did not report any damage, U.N. officials said.
An official in the northern Pakistani district of Chitral said he had received no reports of casualties more than two hours after the quake struck, but was still gathering information from remote areas.
Further south, Pakistan's main cities appeared to have escaped without any significant damage.
Earthquakes are relatively frequent in the Hindu Kush mountain range. Another tremor of similar strength struck northern Afghanistan on Jan. 3, but caused no significant damage.
In 1998, two earthquakes killed about 8,500 people and destroyed tens of thousands of houses in the northern Afghan provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan.

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