- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2004

BAM, Iraq — About 50 families lived in Edalat Alley, two rows of mud-and-clay brick houses facing each other across a narrow, sandy track.

Many of them were related to each other, having moved in together 15 years ago when the houses were built.

It was a typical middle-income street in the Iranian tourist town of Bam, housing civil servants, shopkeepers and teachers.

Though a bit better off than most Iranians, the alley’s residents shared many of their troubles.

About a quarter of the men were unemployed, forcing many young couples to crowd into the houses of their relatives.

Heroin addiction, the particular scourge of the Baluchi people of eastern Iran, was rife.

In 16 seconds, on Dec. 26, that small world, with its problems and small privileges, was obliterated by an earthquake.

Even memories of it are scarce, because fewer than 10 of the alley’s several hundred residents are still alive, and most are dispersed to hospitals across Iran.

As for the rows of neat houses, they are two mounds of dust, bricks and broken furniture.

They end together in a bigger heap of bricks, concrete and twisted metal sheets — the remains of an orphanage, where a hundred orphaned girls perished.

Hamideh Khordoosta, 22, was not in the house she shared with her husband — who is also her cousin — and a dozen other close relatives when the earthquake struck.

She was staying with friends on the city’s outskirts, having left her husband to his opium pipe in disgust.

Sitting amid the wreckage of the family’s house, in a dusty brown headscarf and baggy jersey, Mrs. Khordoosta ticked off the relatives she lost in the rubble: her grandmother; her sister; a dozen aunts and uncles; and most of their children.

Her husband survived, though he is now paralyzed with a broken back.

“Our sisters are dead, our children are dead, our parents are dead, our grief is endless,” said Mrs. Khordoosta, wiping away tears with a corner of her scarf. “This is what it means to be lonely, having no one to share your sorrow.”

Early efforts to quantify the devastation of Bam have produced horrifying results — 28,000 of the town’s 80,000 residents are registered as dead and buried.

The total death toll, including victims in nearby villages, could climb to 50,000, according to the government’s estimate, the highest in any earthquake for 25 years.

But global statistics do not describe the most bitter fact of the calamity, the near-complete eradication of countless family-based communities.

“The sheer concentration of death is mind-blowing, it’s unprecedented,” said Rob MacGillivray, emergency coordinator for Save the Children, and a veteran of numerous earthquake disasters.

“Communities have been virtually wiped out, whole extended families have been completely annihilated,” he said.

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