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Twin Afghan quakes kill up to 22 people

Two earthquakes killed up to 22 people in eastern Afghanistan, damaging villages and destroying scores of homes in a remote area near the border with Pakistan, local authorities in Sherzad said yesterday.
The quakes hit overnight in Khogyani and Sherzad districts in Nangarhar province, where police searched for bodies and the injured under the rubble of flattened homes, while the grim process of burying the dead got underway.
"Twenty-two people have been killed and 30 injured. More than 200 homes have been destroyed," Khogyani district chief Haji Said Rahman told AFP.
The 5.5- and 5.1-magnitude tremors, which struck two hours apart at shallow depths, had caused simple mud-brick homes to collapse with ease, said an AFP correspondent.
At one house, only a wall with a prayer mat hanging on it was left standing and several dead cows and sheep lay motionless in the rubble.
"Some people came out of their houses after the first tremor," said resident Yar Mohammad, 30, adding they went back inside to help other people get out.
"But there came another strong tremor and the houses fell down on the people," Mohammad added, as helicopters surveying the damage roared overhead.
Funerals for three women and six children began in the afternoon in keeping with Muslim and local tradition that bodies be buried as quickly as possible.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai conveyed his condolences to local officials and tribal elders in the region, and ordered authorities to provide emergency aid as quickly as possible to the victims.
Twenty people were killed and around 50 wounded, the presidency said in a statement.
"The work is going on and the rubble is being removed to try to find more dead bodies or injured people," interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashari told AFP.
A US military provincial reconstruction team (PRT) based in Jalalabad, the provincial capital, also provided emergency assistance.
Ahmad Shekib Hamraz, an official with the disaster management directorate, said hundreds of animals had also been killed.
"Nineteen people have been martyred and 25 wounded. A hundred houses were destroyed. Some 350 to 400 animals were also killed," he said.
The US Geological Survey said two moderate earthquakes rattled the Hindu Kush border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A 5.5-magnitude quake struck at 1:57 am Afghan time (2127 GMT Thursday), 85 kilometres (55 miles) southeast of Kabul, according to the US agency.
The quake was at a shallow depth of eight kilometres.
It was followed just over two hours later by a 5.1-magnitude aftershock at a depth of just three kilometres.
Northern Afghanistan and Pakistan are frequently hit by earthquakes, especially around the Hindu Kush range near the collision of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.
A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in northwest Pakistan and Kashmir in October 2005 killed 74,000 people and displaced 3.5 million.