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Afghan Quake Victims Plead for Aid

February 12, 1998

RUSTAQ, Afghanistan (AP) _ A three-truck aid convoy arrived Thursday in quake-devastated northeastern Afghanistan after journeying across snow-clogged mountain passes, and aid organizations appealed for money to parachute in 1,000 tons more.

Until now, the aid supply to the remote region, battered by snowfall, fog and a protracted and bitter civil war, has been barely a trickle. The 20 tons of food brought in Thursday was the first substantial delivery since the Feb. 4 quake destroyed dozens of mountain villages and killed at least 4,500 people. Thousands more are missing.

The United Nations and the International Red Cross appealed Thursday for $2.5 million, primarily to pay for building materials to shelter the estimated 25,000 people left homeless by the 6.1-magnitude earthquake and aftershocks.

``We can’t mess around here ... If we don’t get that shelter, people will die,″ said Sarah Russell, spokeswoman for the United Nations in neighboring Pakistan. ``We need this money absolutely as soon as possible.″

The three-truck U.N. convoy rumbled into the battered city of Rustaq late Thursday. It had left neighboring Badakhshan province four days earlier, but stalled in snow- and mud-clogged mountain passes.

The trucks brought 20 tons of food, clothing and plastic sheeting, said Anis Haider, director of the World Food Program in neighboring Pakistan.

By afternoon, the snow had let up and two U.N. planes carrying nearly two tons of food, blankets and plastic sheeting were able to land. Two Red Cross aircraft also made it to the area _ the first flights since Monday.

Despite the deliveries, the situation remained desperate.

Journalists outnumbered doctors and aid workers in the region Thursday _ a fact that embittered quake survivors and the local leaders trying to care for them.

``What is the matter? Why are so few people coming to our aid?″ said Abdullah, a spokesman for the alliance that controls the area. Like many Afghans, he uses only one name.

Aid agencies faced a logistical nightmare in trying to supply the region, due to snowstorms, fog, bitter cold and war-shattered roads. The relief effort has been complicated by landslides, harsh terrain and the large distances between villages in need of help.

Shivering survivors cowered beneath plastic sheets, their only protection against the cold and snow. Women clutched infants wrapped in ice-caked blankets and begged for help.

Mohammed Karim had trekked with several neighbors for days from their stricken village, hoping to return with supplies on their backs and on donkeys for other survivors who were unable to flee. His feet were wrapped in tattered wool rags as he shivered under a thin wool blanket.

``Our houses have collapsed. People are living in the snow. What are we supposed to do?″ Karim asked. ``They are dying and no one is helping us.″

The effects of almost 20 years of civil war further hampered rescue efforts, with impenetrable front lines crossing shattered highways. The northern military alliance that controls the earthquake zone faces the Taliban Islamic army along a 40-mile front southwest of Rustaq.

While the Taliban has not been stopping aid convoys, the religious army that controls 85 percent of the country has not given any assistance to the quake victims.

A helicopter belonging to a leader in the alliance _ northern Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum _ landed in Rustaq on Thursday with $50,000 to buy food and clothing for the most desperate, witnesses said. The pilot promised to return on Friday with another $50,000.

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