KABUL, 13 February 2005 — Tens of thousands of residents scared by rumors of an earthquake spent a chilly night in the open in the Afghan capital, Kabul, residents said yesterday.
The rumors spread after relatives and friends in the Pakistani city of Peshawar called people in Kabul telling them an earthquake was likely to hit the region, but it was not known what caused the people to expect a tremor.
“Hearing noises in background, I woke up and pulled (open) the curtain of my room and was surprised to see several dozen families standing in snow and some people in their vehicles with engines on,” said Fawad Akbari, a resident in Macrorayon neighborhood of Kabul.
“I went down to ask what happened, people laughed at me why I was not aware of the prediction of a strong quake.”
Kabul, which is normally deserted at night, was full of people camping out of their apartment buildings.
Police packed the streets, which were crowded with vehicles rushing from one neighborhood to another in search of a safer place. “My cousin called me from Peshawar at 3:00 (2230 GMT) and told me that people in Peshawar were staying outdoors despite rain fall due to fear of a quake and advised us to do so,” university student Mohammed Osman told AFP.
The situation returned to normal hours later after radio announcements were dismissing the rumors.
“It was only a rumor which spread around the city, it hasn’t come from an official source,” Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told AFP.
“This is a crime to spread such baseless and false rumors which made people suffer,” he added.
Similar scenes were witnessed in Peshawar where residents said thousands of people stayed out of their homes because of the false alarm.
“We left home after midnight for safety when announcements were made on mosques’ loudspeakers by the clerics that an earthquake was about to hit the city,” said resident Rafiq Khan, who runs a car showroom in the city.
“People were running toward safer places all night long and the scare was not over until morning,” he said.
A minister in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, Sirajul Haq, said the rumor originated from Karak city, 112 kilometers south of Peshawar and close to Afghanistan border.
“Police tried to search for the cleric who had made the first announcement but he managed to escape,” Haq said.
The province’s Chief Minister Akram Durrani said he had ordered a thorough probe into the incident.
Agence France Presse
KHOST, Afghanistan — Fifteen more people have died in freezing weather and avalanches in Afghanistan, raising the death toll in a winter cold snap to more than 82, officials said yesterday.
Six people died when they became trapped in their vehicle after an avalanche struck the highway between Kabul and the main northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, Public Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi said.
Further fatalities occurred in southeastern Paktia region. Four people, including two infants, died from cold while five were killed when their vehicle slipped off a road late Friday, police officer Hay Gul Slimankhil said.
On Friday Fatemi told AFP that more than 67 Afghans have died from freezing conditions as the war-battered country faces its coldest winter after years of droughts.
Many of the victims were children in rural areas or in refugee camps in Kabul where people have lived in severe poverty since returning from neighboring countries after the fall of the Taleban in late 2001, Fatemi said.
He said the Health Ministry was preparing an emergency operation to take medicines and other supplies to the affected areas, some of which were inaccessible by road.
“We don’t have enough medicines in our hospital to treat people,” a doctor in Paktia’s government-run hospital said.
Slimankhil said all roads to Gardez, the capital of Paktia, were blocked after heavy snowfall over several weeks, hampering missions to take medicines to the area.