Chechen Turnout High After Quake

ReutersKadyrov casting his ballot in local parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tsentoroi, Chechnya, on Sunday.
A magnitude 5.6 earthquake killed 13 people and injured 100 others Saturday afternoon in Chechnya, one day before parliamentary elections in the republic.

A state of emergency was declared in the region, but the election went ahead, with the republic's elections commission reporting a very high turnout.

Two tremors hit the region in quick succession Saturday, the first with a magnitude of 5.6 and the second at 4.8, the Emergency Situations Ministry reported on its web site Sunday.

An Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman in Moscow said Sunday that three children were among those killed by the quake and that of the 27 people hospitalized, 12 were in serious condition.

Timur Taisumov, a spokesman for the Chechnya branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry, said the death of one man in the hospital Sunday had brought the toll to 13 and that 117 people had been treated for injuries.

A spokeswoman for the Chechen government said the quake had not prevented any of the 437 polling stations in the republic from opening and that all were functioning normally.

The head of the Chechen Electoral Commission, Ismail Baikhanov, said by telephone from Grozny that the turnout was "very high." More than 80 percent of voters turned out by 5 p.m., he said.

"People are coming [to vote]. I think the events yesterday even prompted them to come out," he said.

Baikhanov said two polling stations had to be moved outside because there were cracks in the walls of the buildings where they were set up, adding that the good weather Sunday meant that this was no problem.

The earthquake wreaked significant physical havoc, with 317 buildings listed as damaged by the tremors, including three hospitals, Taisumov said. He had no information on the number of people left homeless.

The three hospitals have cracks in their walls but are still safe for admitting patients, Taisumov said.

The situation was downplayed on a Channel One news broadcast on Sunday afternoon, which showed only a cracked wall on one building as evidence of the damage.

The area that suffered the most was the Kurchaloi district, an area of small private houses, Taisumov said. In the Gudermes district, some 5-story apartment blocks were damaged.

More than 500 families in the Kurchaloi district were forced to find shelter in tents, Reuters reported, citing the Emergency Situations Ministry.

The Emergency Situations Ministry web site said two schools, four mosques and two stores were also damaged.

Rescue workers had arrived from Moscow, Nalchik and North Ossetia and were on standby in case any more buildings collapsed, Taisumov said.

He said rescue workers were not expecting to find any more victims from the quake, as most of the collapsed buildings were small homes and victims and anyone trapped had been located quickly.

The Chechen authorities had planned a large program of concerts and other entertainment for election day, but those events had been canceled, Baikhanov said.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov voted in his home village in the Kurchaloi district, RIA-Novosti reported.

"I'm sure that the citizens of Chechnya will fulfill their obligation as citizens and will come to vote today as in previous years, because the Chechen people know the value of peace and stability," Kadyrov said, the news agency reported. "The turnout will be no less than 100 percent, and maybe more."

Kadyrov was a little less ambitious on the Chechen administration's web site, where he was quoted as saying he expected turnout to be "almost 100 percent."

Chechnya regularly registers incredibly high turnouts. Official figures for the 2007 State Duma election said 99.5 percent of eligible voters participated.

No results had been released Sunday evening, as election commission officials had only begun counting votes.