We present measurements of transient carrier dynamics subsequent to intense above-band gap femtosecond excitation of the II-VI compounds ZnTe and CdTe, probed in the far infrared by transient terahertz time-domain spectroscopy. The intensity and temperature dependence of the carrier dynamics illuminates the role of two-photon absorption (TPA) of pump photons. At cold temperatures and high excitation intensities TPA results in a photoexcited carrier distribution which requires several picoseconds to thermalize. As a consequence, the dielectric function of the carrier distribution deviates strongly from the Drude model for as long as 20 ps after excitation. (C) 2002 American Institute of Physics.