- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAM, Iran — Rescuers pulled two young girls alive from the rubble of their caved-in houses yesterday, giving new hope to search crews who had despaired of finding more survivors from last week’s devastating earthquake.

A clergyman also reported that three times yesterday, men whose bodies had already been wrapped in shrouds for burial were discovered to be alive.

More than 25,000 bodies have been retrieved since Friday’s 6.5-magnitude quake shook the ancient city of Bam and its surrounding region in southeast Iran, according to provincial government spokesman Asadollah Iranmanesh. At least 10,000 people were thought to be injured.

Two aftershocks early yesterday terrified survivors and toppled some of the few walls still standing. Later, Iran’s president and supreme leader made their first visits since the temblor, pledging to rebuild.

There were fears that the number of dead could rise as high as 40,000 as Bam passed the critical mark of 72 hours after the quake, the longest period people are expected to survive in such conditions. “Many, many more people remain buried under the rubble,” a government spokesman said.

Iranian relief worker Shokrollah Abbasi described how, using an electronic device, he and three colleagues found a young girl still alive in the rubble of her house but unconscious and with a broken leg.

“The only reason she remained alive was because the roof had not totally collapsed,” Mr. Abbasi told the Associated Press. “There was air for her to breathe. We found her in the kitchen. There was a plate of rice near her, and it appeared to me that the food had helped her remain alive.”

The bodies of a woman and boy were found nearby. The girl, who appeared to be about 12, was taken to Bam’s small airport to be flown to another city for hospital care.

“When we brought out the girl, everybody cried ‘O … this is magic,’” he said.

Reuters news agency, meanwhile, reported that a baby girl had been discovered alive in the arms of her dead mother buried under another flattened building.

Rescuers said 6-month-old Nassim had been saved by her mother’s embrace, which shielded her from falling debris.

A clergyman from the seminary town of Qom described how three times in the space of five hours he had been reciting the final prayers for unidentified men wrapped in shrouds when their bodies moved.

The first time it happened, “my friends were taking the body to place it in the grave,” Hojatoleslam Mojtaba Zonnor told the Associated Press.

“Then they thought there was a movement. They called a doctor. After a brief examination, the doctor said, ‘He’s not dead; he’s alive.’ And they took him out of the shroud and put him in an ambulance and took him away.”

Mr. Zonnor, one of about 500 clergymen from across Iran who came to help bury the dead, said the exact situation recurred twice yesterday.

Such discoveries renewed the enthusiasm of international rescue teams, some of which were preparing to leave today.

“The first phase is over,” said Thomas Krimm, spokesman for a German disaster relief organization.

“That means the search and rescue teams are winding down their activities, although they are ready to engage if they get new indications from the local population. It’s just that the chance of finding someone alive is steadily falling.”

But Terje Engevik, a member of a Norwegian search crew, said, “It’s never too late. We’ll continue.”

And Eric Soupra, a spokesman for French rescuers, told France’s RTL radio, “There have been miracles in earthquakes before, in other cities, in other countries, and so we must continue searching.”

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Mohammed Khatami paid separate condolence visits yesterday to Bam, formerly a city of 80,000 people surrounded by citrus groves and dotted with date palms.

“Aid should continue to come so that, God willing, the city of Bam is rebuilt better and this time stronger than before,” Ayatollah Khamenei told people in the streets. “We can build a strong and developed city out of this devastation.”

Mr. Khatami appealed for international help, saying the relief provided by Iran’s government and its people was not enough.

Already, 1,400 international relief workers from 26 countries have converged in Bam, said Ted Pearn, coordinator of U.N. relief operations.

The United States has sent eight Air Force C-130 cargo planes despite long-severed diplomatic relations with Iran.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Iran’s U.N. ambassador Saturday that the earthquake was a humanitarian tragedy that transcended political considerations, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said yesterday.


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