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Moderate earthquake shakes Central, South Asia; light damage in Afghan capital

Updated:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Jolting an already jittery region, a moderate earthquake rumbled across Central and South Asia on Thursday, sending shudders through Pakistan's major cities and collapsing war-weakened buildings in the battered Afghan capital. One woman was injured by a falling wall.

The temblor, centered in the seismically active Hindu Kush mountain range of northern Afghanistan, was felt across 400 miles and in two other countries, Tajikistan and India. Pakistan's office of meteorology said its magnitude was 5.8; the U.S. Geological Survey put it at 6.0.

The quake struck at 12:05 p.m. and was felt in Islamabad, the capital, the eastern city of Lahore and the Afghan frontier city of Peshawar. No injuries or damage were reported in Pakistan, the state news agency reported.

``It was mild at first. I thought my chair was off-balance,'' said Arshad Ali, a computer operator in Peshawar. ``Then I saw my computer monitor shaking, and I realized it was an earthquake. I ran out of the building.''

More than 300 miles away, in the old city of Kabul, the Afghan capital, several walls surrounding house compounds cracked and crumbled. One woman was taken to the hospital with minor injuries, covered in dust and blood spatters. She was apparently washing her clothes when a wall fell on her.

At the airport north of the city, the control tower shook violently and people ran from the building, but there was no visible damage.

Also, pieces of several bullet-riddled abandoned buildings in Kabul fell to the ground. Many buildings in and around Kabul are unsafe after years of shelling and abandonment.

In Islamabad, the quake lasted more than 30 seconds and shook house foundations and light fixtures. In Peshawar, near the Afghan border, the shaking continued for 10 minutes after the initial shudder.

The quake could also be felt _ more mildly _ in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where there was no visible damage.

In Srinagar, summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, residents ran from their houses into the streets during 35 seconds of vibrations. And further north, Tajikistan's Emergency Situations Ministry also reported feeling the quake.

Earthquakes and seismic activity are common in this part of the world and particularly in the Hindu Kush mountains, though they are not usually felt over such a wide area. A 6.9-magnitude quake based in the same region on May 30, 1998, killed more than 5,000 people.

Bruce Presgrave, a U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist, said in Colorado that the area within a 60-mile radius of Thursday's quake has had 18 quakes of magnitude-6.0 or higher since 1990.

He said the relative depth of the earthquake Thursday _ 75 miles below the surface _ probably would mitigate possible damage.

``This is a very active area. It's part of the boundary between the Indian subcontinent and the Eurasian plate,'' Presgrave said. ``Typically earthquakes at that depth are felt over a wide area and tend not to cause as much damage ... as a shallow earthquake.''

In Peshawar, construction worker Zabid Khan was on a ladder hanging letters for a sign on the fifth floor of a building when he felt the quake and began praying for his safety.

``I thought that somebody was shaking my ladder. I was scared, but I couldn't do anything. I was up so high and couldn't get down,'' Khan said.

``It was a very bad day for me,'' he said. ``First I fought with my wife, and then there was an earthquake. Afterward, I felt bad for fighting with my wife.''
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