- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

BAM, Iran — A 97-year-old woman was rescued yesterday from the rubble of her home, having survived for eight days without water or food after an earthquake obliterated this city.

Shahrbanou Mazandarani, whom a reporter for The Washington Times saw dozing comfortably in a hospital bed, was in remarkably good shape, bewildered Red Cross doctors said.

“She’s a little dehydrated but, apart from that, she has no complaints at all,” said Dr. Paul Odberg, chief medical coordinator of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Bam. “No, she has one complaint: She doesn’t like the intravenous needle and keeps asking us to take it out.”

The elderly woman’s survival defied not only medical wisdom, which dictates that few can survive more than a week without water, but also the unusually deadly conditions in Bam.

As the city’s mostly mud-brick buildings crumbled to suffocatingly dense rubble, almost no survivors have been rescued since 48 hours after the quake. The death toll in Bam, which rose to 29,700 yesterday, is expected to approach 50,000.

Her rescuers said Mrs. Mazandarani survived initially because the roof of her home, unlike those on most other houses in Bam, was made with wooden beams. The collapsing beams formed a small cavern, protecting her from a deluge of bricks and earth.

“We saw a hand sticking out of the rubble, and we assumed it belonged to a corpse,” said Abololreza Azemi, a member of the Red Crescent rescue team. “Then we started digging for it, and the hand started moving. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.”

Zaharen Shahyar, a Red Crescent volunteer who was the first person to speak to the rescued woman, said: “Her first words were to say that she was very cold, and she asked me to hold her head to comfort her. Then she asked me for some tea.”

Mrs. Mazandarani complained that the tea was too hot and asked the volunteer to spoon-feed it to her. Then she started reciting classical Persian poetry.

Dr. Odberg said there was no medical explanation for how she survived for so long through Bam’s roasting days and nights when the temperature plummets to freezing.

Red Crescent workers tried to fight off a crowd of Iranian journalists who surged toward Mrs. Mazandarani in the makeshift hospital where she initially was treated. The elderly woman, however, was quite unperturbed.

“She seemed totally unfazed by the attention,” Red Cross representative Denis McClean said. “She just sat up and looked at everyone.”

Mrs. Mazandarani later was filmed reciting a religious poem for the evening bulletin on Iran’s state-run news.

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