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Bad Weather Blocks Relief Flights After Afghan Quake 30,000 Cold, Hungry Homeless In Northeast Afghanistan

TUESDAY, FEB. 17, 1998

Bad weather blocked relief flights to quake-stricken northeastern Afghanistan again Monday, frustrating aid workers who have managed to get only one flight through in four days.

An estimated 30,000 people in the remote mountains of the northeast are cold, hungry and badly in need of shelter and food after a powerful Feb. 4 quake, which crumbled villages and killed an estimated 4,500 people.

On Monday, two U.N. planes packed with supplies circled a northeastern airstrip, waiting in vain for a break in the clouds that would let them land. They eventually aborted their mission and returned to Pakistan.

Two Russian-made cargo planes, scheduled to fly into Pakistan to pick up tons of much-needed supplies, also fell victim to the bad weather and were unable to take off from northeastern Afghanistan.

The cargo planes were provided by the alliance headed by Afghanistan’s former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who controls the region where the quake struck. Rabbani was ousted from power by the Taliban army in 1996.

Helicopters have managed to reach some of the most isolated villages, while aid convoys have taken four to six days to traverse the snow- and mud-clogged road from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia.

Since the quake struck, U.N. and International Red Cross planes have taken advantage of every brief opening in the weather. But aid workers say they have been few and far between.

The United Nations and Red Cross are appealing for $2.5 million to drop supplies in by parachutes.

After four days, the aid organizations have collected only $1 million, and no country has come forward with the key item - a cargo helicopter to airdrop supplies, said Rupert Colville, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees official coordinating the relief effort.

The United States, Britain, Sweden and Denmark have contributed aid.

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