KABUL, March 26: Some 2,000 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured after a series of earthquakes flattened a district capital and villages in northern Afghanistan on Monday night and Tuesday morning.

According to unofficial estimates, as many as 5,000 people were killed in the tremors.

The quakes measured between five and six on the Richter scale.

“It was a very heartrending catastrophe,” Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni said. He appealed for international help, saying the interim government simply could not cope with the disaster.

“The bodies of 1,800 have been pulled out of the rubble, but many more are still buried. More than 3,000 have been injured and 30,000 displaced,” Qanooni said at Kabul airport before flying to Afghanistan’s latest disaster zone.

“It is beyond the interim government to deal with this tragedy. We ask all international agencies and foreign countries to help us in this emergency situation.”

Officials and aid workers said aftershocks continued on Tuesday afternoon, hampering rescue efforts and terrifying residents in the devastated market town of Nahrin, a district capital of mud-brick buildings, and surrounding villages.

“We are sending rescue teams, but aftershocks make relief efforts dangerous,” a defence ministry spokesman said.

Nahrin, near the epicentre in the Hindu Kush mountains, had been destroyed and 1,500 homes had crumbled.

“Around 90 per cent of residential houses in old and new Nahrin towns have been destroyed by the earthquake and aftershocks,” said Ehsan Ahmad Zahin of the French aid agency ACTED, which has a team on the spot.

“The first priority is to send shelter, blankets, food and water,” Zahin said.

A team from the United Nations, aid agencies and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) headed from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to assess the damage, taking hundreds of tents and blankets, ICRC and UN officials said.

a government spokesman said Russia planned to send a mobile clinic and the World Food Programme had sent 158 tons of food in addition to the UN and ICRC aid.

Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai cancelled a trip to Turkey scheduled for Wednesday because of the quake and called a meeting of all ministries to make plans to deal with the latest disaster to strike the war-ravaged country, officials said.—Reuters

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