Iran Earthquake Toll Could Reach 10,000
TEHRAN, Iran - A severe earthquake devastated the southeastern Iranian city of Bam on Friday, leveling more than half the city's houses and its historic mud-brick fortress. A preliminary estimate said the death toll could reach 10,000.
Hasan Khoshrou, a legislator for Kerman province where the quake occurred, said there was still no precise number of dead from the magnitude 6.7 quake, but officials working in Bam had given him that figure.
"The quake hit the city when most of the people were in bed, raising fears that the death toll may go higher," he said.
Officials surveying the city of 80,000 people from helicopter said about 60 percent of the city's houses were destroyed, Khoshrou said. Water, power and phone lines were cut. The earthquake struck at about 5:30 a.m.
Footage shot from a helicopter and aired on Iranian state television showed widespread devastation in Bam, with rows and rows of collapsed or damaged buildings next to others that appeared to be intact.
Images shot from a moving car, accompanied by somber music, showed some houses had been reduced to nothing more than piles of brick, while men near one builidng embraced each other, shaking and sobbing. Other footage showed dead and injured being brought into hospitals with crowds of people outside.
Reports said the earthquake destroyed Bam's medieval fortress, a massive, 2,000-year-old structure that sits on a cliff near the city and attracts thousands of tourists each year. The fortress includes scores of ancient mud huts.
"The historic quarter of the city has been completely destroyed and caused great human loss," said Mehran Nourbakhsh, chief spokesman for Iran's Red Crescent, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake's magnitude was 6.7, capable of causing severe damage. It reported an aftershock of magnitude 5.4 about two hours later.
Authorities in Bam, 630 miles southeast of the capital Tehran, put out a call for blood donations.
"Many people have died," Kerman province Gov. Mohammad Ali Karimi told state media. "Many people are buried under the rubble."
Relief teams set up their headquarters in a public square in Bam because their offices in the governor's building had been ruined, Karimi told state radio.
Karimi said worried relatives from surrounding areas were heading to Bam and causing massive traffic jams that were slowing rescue efforts. He urged them to stay home and wait until phone service was restored to try to find relatives.
Authorities have sent numerous rescue workers with helicopters to the area, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
"We are doing everything we can to rescue the injured and unearth the dead," television quoted Karimi as saying.
Turkey's NTV television channel said people were streaming out of Bam for the city of Kerman, 120 miles away, and had complained they had not gotten any aid.
About 500 people have been evacuated to hospitals in Kerman, where they are in critical condition, Iranian state television reported, quoting local authorities.
The United Nations disaster management team in Tehran has asked the Iranian government if it needs help and was to meet later Friday to assess the situation, said Elizabeth Byrs, Geneva spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
She said there had been no request from Tehran so far.
Roy Probert, spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the umbrella group also has had no requests. Probert said the Iranian Red Crescent is well-prepared for earthquakes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences over the earthquake.
In a telegram to Iranian President Mohamed Khatami, Putin said he was "deeply shocked by an earthquake in Iran that brought numerous victims and destruction" and offered his "sincere condolences to the leadership and people of Iran."
Russian Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Marina Ryklina said that two Il-76 transport aircraft with rescue workers and equipment were to leave for Iran later Friday.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder expressed "deep sorrow" over the disaster and said his country would offer humanitarian assistance. Greece put a team of rescue specialists on alert for possible deployment to Iran.
Hardly any buildings in Iran are built to withstand earthquakes, although the country sits on several major faultlines and temblors are frequent. An earthquake of magnitude 7.3 to 7.7 killed 50,000 people on June 21, 1990, and most recently, a magnitude 6 quake in June, 2002 killed 500 people.
Also Friday, a magnitude 4 quake rocked the west Iranian town of Masjid Soleiman at 8:10 a.m., but no casualties were immediately reported, state television said. Masjid Soleiman is about 600 miles northwest of Bam.