An earthquake destroyed several mountain villages in Tadzhikistan Monday, killing up to 1,000 people and burying one village under a 45-foot wall of dirt and mud, officials said.

"Almost everybody died," said Zainiddin Nasreddinov, editor-in-chief of the official Tadzhikistan news agency, who visited the buried village of Sharora in Soviet Central Asia.A preliminary estimate indicated about 600 people died there, he said in a telephone interview from Dushanbe, about 10 miles northeast of Sharora. The population of the village was not known, but Nasreddinov said about 70 families lived there.

"The total number of deaths is now evaluated at up to 1,000," said the official Tass news agency. It said hundreds died in Sharora but did not give an exact figure.

The quake struck about 1,800 miles southeast of Moscow, north of Afghanistan and bordering China, at 2:02 a.m. (4:02 p.m. MST Sunday). It was the strongest quake to hit the Soviet Union since the Dec. 7 quake that struck Armenia and killed about 25,000 people.

Rescue teams were searching for survivors and soldiers were rushed to the area to keep order and restore communications and power and water to the buildings left standing, said Nasreddinov.

Roads into the area were damaged and thousands of cattle were killed, Tass said. Bulldozers and cranes were being sent into the area to help rescuers, the report said.

The magnitude of the earthquake was uncertain.

The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., said it measured 6.0 on the Richter scale. The survey offices in Menlo Park, Calif., and Reston, Va., put the magnitude at 5.4 on the Richter scale.

A torrent of dirt and mud slid from a nearby hill and buried Sharora after the earthquake hit, Nasreddinov said.

"Everything is destroyed - all the homes, the schools, the hospitals and clinics, the stores," he said. Communications, electricity and water were disrupted and many injured were rushed to hospitals in Dushanbe and other large cities.

Tass said the quake caused "destruction and casualties."

"Small buildings made from earth were hit especially hard," Tass said. "The quake caused a serious landslide, some 2 kilometers (11/4 miles) long, from a hill near the village." It said Sharora was buried beneath 45 feet of mud and rocks.

Nasreddinov said the buildings destroyed were all one-story structures made of brick. He said Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev called Tadzhikistan officials to promise help from the national government.

In addition to the deaths in Sharora, 70 more people were estimated to have died in the villages of Akulibolo and Akulipoyen, near the epicenter, according to Nasreddinov. He said several other villages were damaged.

Local officials put the epicenter about 20 miles southwest of Dushanbe, the republic's capital.> A quake of magnitude 6 on the Richter scale can cause severe damage in populated areas. A quake of magnitude 7 is considered a major earthquake, capable of widespread, heavy damage.

The Richter scale is a measure of ground motion as recorded on a seismograph. Every increase of one number means that the ground motion is 10 times greater.