- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAM, Iran — International relief workers began to shift their focus from searching for survivors in the quake-flattened city of Bam to helping the injured find homes and burying the corpses still being pulled from the rubble.

Iranian officials said the death toll from the 6.6 magnitude quake on Friday could jump to more than 40,000, making it one of the deadliest disasters of modern times. The official toll, however, stood at 28,000, according to the coordinator of the United Nations’ relief operations, Ted Peran. At least 12,000 people were injured, the Health Ministry said.

Several hundred relief workers headed home, frustrated over finding so few survivors.

“We have gone out of the rescue phase and entered the humanitarian-relief phase of the operation,” Mr. Peran told the Associated Press. “There’s always hope of pulling more survivors out … but the window of opportunity is closing rapidly.”

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami vowed to rebuild Bam within two years. The southeastern city — up to 70 percent of which may have been destroyed — had been home to 80,000 people.

“Bam must be put back on the map of Iran,” Iranian TV quoted Mr. Khatami as saying after an emergency Cabinet meeting. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, pledged $126,000 for rebuilding Bam’s shattered homes.

Mr. Khatami thanked “anybody who has offered assistance, including the Americans,” as new aid or pledges of assistance continued to arrive.

The six Arab states that face Iran across the Persian Gulf committed $400 million toward reconstruction. A team of 80 American relief workers arrived in Bam yesterday with medical supplies.

Along the ruined streets of Bam, 600 miles southeast of the capital, Tehran, crowds jostled for aid handouts. Women in black chadors, some carrying infants, scrambled for old clothes tossed from the back of a truck. Some young men tried to clamber on the truck to help themselves, but they were pushed back.

At the peak of rescue efforts, 1,700 international relief workers from 30 countries had converged in Bam, Mr. Peran said. By yesterday, the number of rescuers had dropped to about 1,500 after seven teams returned home.

“We did not find anyone alive,” said Steve Owens of the charity British International Search, waiting yesterday at the airport in the provincial capital of Kerman for a flight back to England.

“We were a day late getting to the site,” Mr. Owens said. “There should be ways to get teams in quicker. It’s frustrating.” He said his team spent 14 hours traveling less than 125 miles along a road choked with traffic to reach Bam too late to help.

The London Daily Telegraph reported that another British relief team yesterday was shocked to discover that the body of a British victim they had been called to identify was that of a former colleague who had resigned to travel the world.

Gavin Sexton, 36, a former fireman from Hampshire, England, had been delayed in the historic Iranian town because his motorcycle needed repairs, the Telegraph reported. He died when the hostel in which he was staying collapsed during the quake.

The body was identified by members of the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, eight of whom are participating in the relief effort.

“Our team was working in the ruins when they were told that the body of a British man had been recovered,” said David Askew, a spokesman for the service.

“They went along to investigate and discovered that it was not only a former fireman, but a colleague that some of them knew and had worked alongside.”

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