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Deirdre Tynan

Hundreds of people are homeless in sub-zero weather conditions following an earthquake in Tajikistan.

The quake, registering 5.3 on the Richter scale, struck the Vanj District of Gorno-Badakhshan during the early morning of January 2. There were no reported fatalities.

Estimates of property damage vary widely. Authorities are downplaying initial reports that some 20,000 residents were left homeless by the quake. "According to the information we have 1,019 apartments are partly damaged, 98 houses are destroyed. That's about 70 percent of all the housing in the district center of Vanj. Preliminary information indicates that approximately 583 people are left without homes," Lt. Col. Fozil Kasimov, head of the Committee for Emergency Situations, told EurasiaNet on January 4.

Khusrav Sharipov, the head of the United Nation's Disaster Management project in Tajikistan, asserted that the damage was more extensive than officials were admitting. "According to the preliminary information we have, 98 houses are fully destroyed and 622 people lived in them. Also, 921 houses are partly damaged and 6,315 people were living in these homes," he said.

A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Dushanbe said that between 500 and 2,300 people were forced to evacuate either fully or partially destroyed homes.

The quake's epicenter was about 250-kilometers southeast of Dushanbe and 80-kilometers north of Khorog, the region's administrative capital, according to the US Geological Survey.

The villages of Rogh and Gishkhon were most severely affected by the quake, the Asia-Plus news agency quoted the deputy chairman of Vanj District, Azimjon Shamsiddinov, as saying. Displaced persons are staying with relatives, or are being housed in schools and hospitals, he added.

A medical clinic, the prosecutor's office and two schools were also reportedly flattened. Early estimates put the cost of the damage at around $1.5 million. Telephone and power lines remain down and the main road between Vanj and Khorog is blocked by rock falls and mudslides.

"The Tajik Government is mobilizing an assessment team consisting of specialists from the Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology, GlavGeology and Committee on Emergency Services from Dushanbe," a US Embassy spokesperson in Dushanbe said. The Tajik government has not requested international assistance, she added.

Editor's Note: Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.

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