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Over 1,800 Dead Following Afghan Quakes

Interim Interior Minister Yunus Qanuni told reporters Tuesday, ”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.”

Later, Kabul television reported the number injured had risen to 5,000. Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the United Nations, said Afghan authorities had initially reported the death toll could reach as high as 4,800.

At the scene, regional commander Gen. Haider Khan estimated between 600 and 1,000 people may remain trapped in collapsed homes. Aid agencies told reporters that tens of thousands of Afghanis could be homeless after the quakes.

The quakes devastated nearly 85 percent of Nahrin, a northern town near the Hindu Kush mountains where 83,000 people live, interim Afghan authority estimates said. Five smaller villages were also reported destroyed as aftershocks continued to rumble through the area.

The first quake hit at 7:26 p.m. local time Monday, registering 5.9 on the Richter scale, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo. The epicenter was located 105 miles north of Kabul, and could be felt as far away as Mazar-e-Sharif, 120 miles northwest of Nahrin.

Roughly six hours later, a second major quake hit, measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale.

Afghan Interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai has cancelled a trip to Turkey scheduled for later this week and was expected to visit the affected areas soon.

Afghan officials have issued pleas for international aid to deal with the quakes’ effects.

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

Some international aid groups, like the French group ACTED, have arrived on the scene and are assisting with basic needs, although aftershocks are reportedly hindering further rescue efforts and aid from the areas hardest hit.

The U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said two of the three roads serving the immediate area had been blocked by quake damage, and the remaining roads were clogged with traffic.

U.S. Brig. Gen. John Rosa told reporters that no coalition forces were hurt in the quake.

Monday’s quakes were the second to hit the region in less than a month. More than 100 people were buried by an earthquake-triggered landslide in the Samangan province on March 3.

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