Afghan quake toll uncertain
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan officials have said that an accurate death count may be weeks away after a devastating earthquake in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, where early reports indicated the town of Nahrin may have been destroyed.
Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, said that 1,800 people died in the magnitude 6 quake, but other officials said the number could be as high as 5,000. Thousands more were reported injured, and an estimated 30,000 homes were destroyed in the remote region.
Karzai cancelled a trip to Turkey that had been scheduled for Thursday to remain in Afghanistan and coordinate the response to the disaster.
Kevin Kennedy, a U.N. emergency response official, said two food convoys arrived in the region early Wednesday and that a health clinic has been established in the hardest hit region to help those with injuries. Aid agencies were also distributing tents and blankets.
"I think the U.N. does a lot of things well. This is one of them. We have been involved unfortunately in several earthquakes in Afghanistan over the years, but this would appear to be the most severe in the last 15 or 16 years," Kennedy said.
A Pentagon spokesman said that commanders of U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan were also working with local officials on ways to help the relief effort.
Many of the buildings that were destroyed in the earthquake were built in the same way structures had been erected over the last few centuries.
Aftershocks hinder rescue efforts
Powerful aftershocks, treacherous terrain and winter weather hindered rescue parties on the slopes of the Hindu Kush mountains in Baghlan province, and kept communications to a minimum, the officials said.
A U.S. Army assessment team headed to the earthquake-ravaged region to see what the military can offer in terms of assistance, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said.
"The team will have a better idea of what we can do when daylight comes on Wednesday," said CentCom spokesman Maj. Brad Lowell.
The quake's epicenter, about 90 miles north of Kabul, is a seven-hour overland ride. A French aid agency has sent 2,000 blankets and 1,000 tents, but that is far below what will be needed.
A powerful earthquake struck the same region in the 1998, killing about 7,000 people.
U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, in front of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, said that the United States stood ready to help Afghanistan's interim government, which has been on its feet only about three months and is ill-prepared to deal with the scope of the disaster.
"We will provide assistance to the interim authority and local Afghans in dealing with this tragedy," Khalilzad said.
There were no reports that U.S. troops stationed at Bagram Air Base near Kabul and in Kandahar being injured.
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