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1989: Many killed in Tajik earthquake

Hundreds of people are feared dead after a powerful earthquake struck the Soviet Central Asian republic of Tajikistan.

It is the second earthquake to rock the southern Soviet Union in two months. The earlier quake hit Armenia - about 1,000 miles (1,600km) to the west - killing an estimated 25,000 people.

The epicentre of the latest quake affected an area about 19 miles (30km) from the capital, Dushanbe, in the early hours of the morning.

Early reports say one village of clay homes was buried under a 50ft (17m) landslide, triggered by the earth tremors. All 600 inhabitants of Sharora are believed to have died.

The official Soviet news agency, Tass, says, 1,000 people may have been killed.

Weaker than Armenia quake

The earthquake measured six magnitude, seven on the Soviet scale, which is less powerful than the earthquake which hit Armenia six weeks ago.

Thousands of cattle have been killed and thousands of acres of farmland are now covered with a thick layer of sand and clay.

Georgy Koshlakov, the republic's deputy prime minister, said the quake lasted 40 seconds.

He said: "The earthquake caused a burst of mud from the foothills which poured down on the villages. It was up to five miles wide and one-and-a-half miles long."

Soviet resources are already badly stretched following the Armenian earthquake. The Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, is said to be considering drafting in Afghan troops to help the rescue operation.

In Context
The final death toll was 274.

Tajikistan is one of the most vulnerable of regions in the former Soviet Union to earthquakes, recording 3,000 tremors every year.

A major quake had long been expected, but experts were unable to predict its exact timing because of poor monitoring equipment.

Although this was a relatively minor tremor, earthquakes in Tajikistan happen nearer the surface and their effects are therefore more devastating. Most of the deaths were caused when a waterlogged clay hill collapsed onto a sleeping village.

Scientists estimate the landslip travelled at speeds of up to 38 miles an hour (68kph), giving villagers half a mile away less than two minutes to try to escape.

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