Officials announced the completion Wednesday of an evacuation of women and children from Armenia towns and villages devastated by an earthquake two weeks ago as another temblor rocked an area in the southern Soviet Union.
The official Tass news agency said the Wednesday morning earthquake in Kirghizia, 2,300 miles southeast of Moscow and 1,200 miles east of the stricken Armenian region, damaged several houses but caused no casualties."An earthquake measuring force 6 (on the Soviet scale) in the epicenter occurred in southern Kirghizia at 11:21 a.m. (1:11 a.m. MST) on Wednesday," the news agency said. "According to preliminary data, the tremors damaged houses in the village of Shamaldy Sai but there were no casualties."
A Richter scale measurement of the quake was not available. The Soviet method of measuring earthquakes registers how strongly the tremor is felt compared to the Richter scale measurement of the quake's intensity.
Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze defended his ministry after Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov criticized the failure to provide adequate support personnel to foreign aid workers who rushed to the Armenian republic to assist in the relief operation in the wake of the Dec. 7 quake. That earthquake killed an estimated 55,000 people. So far, 23,700 bodies have been recovered.
Stepan Shalayev, chairman of the Soviet Council of Trade Unions, said the evacuation operation ended Wednesday with the last trainload of children leaving the city of Kirovakan.
Shalayev said 86,400 people had been evacuated by air and rail to allow the process of rebuilding to begin in the worst hit areas of Leninakan, Kirovakan and Spitak, a town of 28,000 people virtually destroyed.
Shalayev said people would be able to return to Armenia only after reconstruction is fully under way.
Responding to a sharp rebuke by Ryzhkov aired on national television that the Foreign Ministry failed to provide adequate support for foreign relief teams, Shevardnadze said no one could have been prepared. "The diplomatic service is no exception," he said in an interview with the weekly newspaper Moscow News.
Ryzhkov charged that relief efforts were hindered by the failure to provide translators or the quick issue of visas.
"I personally cannot blame anyone who could not cope with the difficult situation," Shevardnadze said. "The conscience of Soviet diplomats is clear. All the embassies and the personnel of the ministry did everything possible in this situation."
He lauded the quick international response to assist in relief operations, saying initial efforts to secure foreign relief came in New York, where he had accompanied President Mikhail Gorbachev to the United Nations.
"The first offers of help came through diplomatic channels which were not blocked as in the past," he said. "This was so unusual that our foreign colleagues, being used to our traditional rejection of such offers, started thanking us."