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Afghanistan Death Toll Lower Than Feared


Officials coordinating the relief effort for victims of this week's earthquake in Afghanistan say the number of dead and injured appears to be far less than originally feared. The death toll is now estimated to be between 800 and 1,000, with 300 people injured.

The United Nations, which is coordinating the relief effort for Afghan quake victims, says the casualty toll appears to be far lower than was first estimated.

Initial estimates, which came from the interim Afghan Government, were that 1,800 people were killed in Monday's earthquake in Baghlan Province. Other sources said as many as 5,000 people died.

But U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva says the death toll may be less than 1,000.

Asked why the initial toll was so high, Mr. de Almeida e Silva says it is not unusual for death tolls to shrink, rather than rise, in disasters. "In some cases indeed in fact, in many cases, it starts with higher estimates and then it goes down. You have a good example in New York City, just last September," Mr. de Almeida e Silva said.

The earthquake, which measured 6.0 on the open-ended Richter scale, virtually destroyed the town of Nahrin in Baghlan province.

Most of the destroyed homes in Nahrin and the surrounding area were simple structures. Mr. de Almeida e Silva says that has made it far easier to determine the extent of the casualties. "You're not talking about construction, where people are hidden under debris, under rubble, because it's so simple construction, mud houses with just a few pieces of wood on top to hold the roof. You would not need heavy equipment to remove debris to get people from. There's no steel. There's no heavy construction. It's just one floor, one story. So the families, themselves, have been able to find their loved ones who have been killed and bury them," Mr. de Almeida e Silva said.

Relief supplies have been pouring in by air and road. Mr. de Almeida e Silva says the response from aid agencies and governments has been so fast that, in just over 24 hours, the United Nations finds itself with plenty of supplies. "We are okay with what is already on the ground and what is in the pipeline. But, of course, let's see how the situation evolves. We don't know if there'll be further earthquakes. We don't know what may arise. But, as it looks like today, for the immediate relief, we're looking fine," Mr. de Almeida e Silva said.

However, the earthquake and subsequent landslides may have shifted or buried land mines or unexploded bombs, making the relief effort all the more hazardous.

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