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Food Reaches Some Afghan Villages

June 4, 1998

FAISABAD, Afghanistan (AP) _ Hungry villagers in remote regions of northern Afghanistan received their first food Thursday since a weekend earthquake that shattered their villages, buried their wells and swept crops down the mountain under landslides.

Contributing to the aid effort, the U.S. government leased two Russian-owned, 20-ton-capacity helicopters to bring emergency food from Central Asia, but they weren’t expected to arrive for two or three days, said U.N. spokesman Rupert Colville.

An estimated 5,000 people were killed in Saturday’s earthquake, and the damage it caused was five times worse than a devastating quake that struck the same area in February, aid officials said.

The international aid effort crept along, stalled by the refusal of airport authorities in neighboring Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to clear customs for 4,000 barrels of helicopter fuel.

Because of the fuel shortage, the helicopters flying out of Faisabad made only a few trips Thursday to deliver flour and oil. ``That means a lot more people will go hungry tonight who didn’t have to,″ Colville said.

The fuel arrived at the end of the day, and aid officials were set to at least double the number of relief flights each day.

In Kura-i-Pain, a village 15 miles north of Faisabad, village elders and the local imam, or cleric, met a U.N. helicopter that touched down on a ridge. As the men unloaded the food and lifted flour sacks and oil canisters onto their shoulders, elder Abdul Aziz began to weep.

``We have been waiting for the plane to bring some food,″ he said, his voice trembling. ``Our children are really starving.″

The 50-family village lost 10 people in the earthquake, with 15 others injured and six still missing. Fifty of their animals also died.

In Delgi, where 22 people died and 30 were injured, villagers screamed at the U.N. workers that they needed food, tents and water. The food package will be enough for only three to four days, said Mohamed Asadullah, a U.N. food coordinator on the flight.

The helicopter couldn’t land in the third village on the itinerary, Bari-i-Kham, because of huge cracks the quake had opened in the side of the mountain. As village men crouched below the whirring blades, the helicopter hovered 3 feet off the ground, with U.N. workers tossing aid packages out the door.

The United Nations was negotiating with Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry to lease several more helicopters.

Aid officials expect that several thousand tons of food are needed to tide over about 100 damaged villages for the next month, until the summer harvest.

In Rustaq, the region badly hit by both quakes this year, aid workers set up bakeries to turn flour donated by the World Food Program into bread.

Also on Thursday, the Taliban religious army that controls 85 percent of Afghanistan announced over Taliban-run Shariat Radio that it would donate $50,000 to relief efforts.

The earthquake struck in a region controlled by an anti-Taliban alliance.

Israel’s foreign ministry said Thursday it would send 15 tons of tents, blankets, food and medicine to the earthquake victims. The Netherlands said it would donate emergency shelters, Colville said.

A donor conference was planned for Friday in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Update hourly