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Two earthquakes in Afghanistan kill at least 27 people

KABUL, Afghanistan - Two earthquakes hit a remote, mountainous area in western Afghanistan, killing at least 27 people and destroying hundreds of homes, officials said Tuesday.

The quake occurred on Monday after three days of heavy rainfall that made mudstone houses vulnerable along the mountain slopes, said Baz Mohammad Sarwari, a spokesman for the governor of Badghis province, near the border with Turkmenistan.

Mr. Sarwari said hundreds of houses had been destroyed in poor areas of the Qadis district in the southern part of the province. Men, women and children were killed, many of whom had been inside the buildings.

Azmatullah Sharifi, a resident of the affected district, said by telephone that the death toll would most likely increase significantly because many families were still buried under the rubble.

Rescue teams were dispatched to the affected areas. Photos taken by local residents and provided by Mr. Sarwari showed men and boys using their bare hands to remove clay stones and other rubble, and they apparently tried to reach any survivors trapped in the rubbish.

The first earthquake struck just after 2pm local time east of the city of Qala-e-Naw, the capital of a province that the Taliban swept through in July on their way to conquer Kabul in August. It recorded an order of magnitude of 4.9 according to the United States Geological Survey. The other hit about two hours later six miles away and recorded a force of 5.3.

Earthquakes could be felt across the province on Monday afternoon, causing damage as far away as Qala-e-Naw, officials said.

For civilians in Afghanistan, earthquakes have increased the misery of living through a war that has lasted for years. There have been several earthquakes in recent weeks along Afghanistan's eastern borders with Pakistan and Tajikistan, data from the US Geological Survey shows. Most were in the order of 5 or less.

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