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After Quake, A Struggle To Reach Remote Areas Of Afghanistan, Pakistan


Let's try to picture the force of an earthquake centered in Afghanistan. It was the most powerful quake in years in a region that's accustomed to them. It happened in such remote territory that it will take some time to grasp the full extent of the damage. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Kabul, which is one of the nearest major cities to the earthquake epicenter. And Philip, what did it feel like where you were?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Oh, it was quite strong, Steve. And it went on for quite a long time. I was in a building, and it started kind of rattling. And I know every second in an earthquake feels like a minute. But this did go on and on. And it got more intense. And pretty much everyone ran outside to get away from anything that might fall on top of them.

INSKEEP: Now, Kabul was not that damaged. But then there's the landscape to the north and east of you, mountainous landscape for the most part. What are you hearing from that region?

REEVES: Well, the death toll keeps on going up. And now it's above 300. And we also know that at least 2,000 people are injured. The majority of the victims are in northwest Pakistan. Although, there are some 80 fatalities in Afghanistan. And we also know that many thousands of homes are damaged. And there are a lot of landslides. You know there's a road, Steve, that runs high up in the mountains and connects Pakistan to China? Well, in that highway alone, there were 45 landslides. So we can assume that there are an awful lot in all those little lanes that connect different mountain communities in the Hindu Kush mountains where this happened.

INSKEEP: There must be places where it's impossible to get aid at this moment.

REEVES: Oh, there are, I think. And the military have - Pakistan and Afghanistan - there are helicopters. And there'll be planes out there trying to figure out where are the affected areas. But communications are very bad. And as I say, the roads are likely blocked in a lot of areas. This is a very remote landscape. And it can take a long time before you find out exactly who's been impacted by a disaster of this kind.

INSKEEP: What does it mean that rescuers will be trying to get into these mountain valleys that are also havens for the Taliban?

REEVES: Well, you're right. I mean, the epicenter of this is not far from Kunduz, which is the provincial city in northern Afghanistan, you'll remember, that was recently overtaken by the Taliban, who held it for a few days. But it's going to depend on how the militants play it. I should say also that this is in the context of an environment where, in Kabul right here, United Nations staff are under instructions not to walk outside. So security's a big factor. But it does depend on the militants. And actually, the Taliban today has issued a statement telling its fighters to help aid organizations get materials to the affected people and to help them in their aid operation and expressing sympathy for the victims. Now, this recalls what happened in 2005, where one militant group in particular, through a front organization - a charitable front organization - played a leading role in supplying aid and assistance to earthquake victims in that earthquake, which killed more than 75,000 people. And that organization won quite a lot of public approval for so doing.

INSKEEP: You know, just that you say 2005 is reminding me, Philip Reeves, that was 10 years ago - a decade ago - the last huge earthquake in the region. And there were militants then, and there are militants now. This is a region that's seen an awful lot of suffering, hasn't it?

REEVES: It certainly is. And one's heart has to go out to the people who have to live through all this. Not only have they been caught up over the years in several invasions - the Russians, the international community led by the Americans. They've had Taliban fighting over territory with government forces here and now natural disasters. It's a very, very tough landscape.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Kabul. Philip, thanks.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.