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6.1 earthquake kills 4,000 in Afghanistan

A powerful earthquake jolted Afghanistan's remote northeast this week, killing as many as 4,000 people, an Afghan official said Friday in the first casualty reports to emerge.

The quake hit the city of Rustaq, 150 miles north of the Afghan capital, Kabul, destroying 15,000 homes, said Sher Mohammed, a spokesman for the military alliance that controls the area.Tremors of varying intensity rocked the mountainous area for hours afterwards, he said, speaking to the AP via satellite telephone.

The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., put the magnitude of Wednesday's quake at 6.1.

Mohammed said landslides at the quake's epicenter caused much of the destruction.

"The hills collapsed into each other, making a huge crater in the Earth," he said.

News of the devastation in the isolated northern province of Tahkar, which borders Tajikistan, reached Kabul only Friday, and details remained difficult to confirm.

Ousted Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who leads the anti-Taliban alliance that controls part of northern Afghanistan, including Tahkar, has appealed for urgent help from the United Nations and the Red Cross, Mohammed said.

U.N. and Red Cross officials in neighboring Pakistan said they were trying to arrange relief teams to travel to the area, but could not confirm the casualty figures.

Taliban officials in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, said they were unaware of the quake. The Taliban, which controls the remaining 85 percent of Afghanistan, is locked in battles with the northern opposition alliance on at least three different fronts north of Kabul and in western Afghani-stan.

Compounding the destruction, Mohammed said, Taliban jets dropped cluster bombs on Tahkar's provincial capital of Taloqan Friday, injuring 12 people. The provincial capital is 24 miles south of Rustaq.

In 1991, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.5 killed an estimated 900 people in the remote mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.