- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2005

HOTKAN, Iran — Rescue teams using dogs and heavy machinery pulled more bodies from the ruins of flattened villages in central Iran yesterday, and officials raised the death toll from a powerful earthquake to at least 500. The count was expected to rise.

An 18-year-old survivor pulled yesterday from the ruins of this shattered Iranian hamlet stared at the piles of rubble and burst into tears.

“This is not my village,” cried Zehra Mirzaei. “I wish I had died with the others.”

After a miserable night and day spent homeless in the cold and rain of the mountainous region, survivors in Hotkan and other devastated villages got a morale boost: two truckloads of dates sent from Bam, the nearby city flattened by a December 2003 earthquake that killed 26,000 people.

“Our people know what a catastrophe an earthquake is because they tasted it themselves more than a year ago,” said Abbas Esmaeili, head of Bam’s municipal council.

Rain and snow continued to fall in the region, about 600 miles southeast of the capital, Tehran. In the drizzle and mist, workers in Hotkan carried blanket-wrapped corpses across a landscape of mud littered with belongings and wood shards.

“Even sky is crying for Hotkan,” said Rokhsareh Sefatzadeh, beating her chest in grief.

She lost her husband and her four children in the quake. At least 150 of the central Iranian village’s 1,800 residents were killed.

The death toll was likely to increase, said Mohammad Javad Fadaei, deputy governor of Kerman province, who added that at least 900 people were injured.

Still, some survivors were found buried under the ruins of their homes more than a day after the magnitude 6.4 quake struck.

Hours after Miss Mirzaei’s rescue, shouts of “God is great” echoed as a team pulled another girl from the rubble elsewhere in Hotkan. Looking confused, 14-year-old Zehra Hosseini broke into tears after she emerged.

“Where are my father and mother, brother and sister? They must be alive,” she shouted.

The rescuers told her they did not find any other survivors in the same area, but she did not appear to hear them.

About 40 villages were affected by the quake, and many of the area’s population of 30,000 were left homeless.

The Iranian government has not asked directly for international help. Still, the Japanese government said it would send blankets, tents and other aid worth $191,400 to assist quake victims.

President Bush expressed his condolences.

“The United States stands ready to assist the people of Iran in responding to this tragedy, and we will be in contact with the government of Iran to offer concrete help,” a White House statement said.

Iran’s Islamic government shuns contacts with the United States, though it did accept U.S. aid as part of the huge international relief effort in response to the Bam earthquake.

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