Iran earthquake kills thousands
The massive earthquake struck early on Friday
A huge earthquake has killed at least 15,000 people in south-eastern Iran, government sources say. The quake had its epicentre near the ancient city of Bam - most of its buildings have been
flattened. Many people were believed to be buried under rubble. President Khatami has spoken of a "national tragedy" and
urged all Iranians to help the victims. A big relief operation is under way,
with many foreign countries sending supplies and rescue workers to Iran. The country suffers frequent
earthquakes, with small tremors happening almost daily. In one earthquake in
1990, 35,000 people died.
The quake in Bam - a city and surrounding area of more than 200,000
people - occurred at 0528 local time (0158 GMT).It is thought many people were
crushed as they slept. There were scenes of intense grief in the city, with
people weeping next to corpses shrouded in blankets. "I have lost all my
family. My parents, my grandmother and two sisters are under the rubble," Maryam, 17, told Reuters. About 70% of the houses in Bam
have been destroyed, Iranian state television reported.
Two of the city's hospitals have collapsed, crushing many staff, and
remaining hospitals are full. A huge relief operation involving ordinary
Iranians, the army, Islamic volunteer groups and local rescue teams is under
way. Rescue teams are flying to the area by plane and helicopter. Emergency centres set up in makeshift buildings are now trying to
care for the tens of thousands who have been injured. The BBC's Miranda Eeles in Tehran says
that in many places there simply is not enough room. Telephones, electricity
and water supplies have been cut by the tremor.
The concern now is how to rescue those still alive but buried deep under the
rubble, our correspondent adds.
Temperatures at night in this desert city drop to well below freezing. A
number of countries - including Russia, Britain, Germany and Spain - have
offered to send relief teams and supplies. The United
States offered humanitarian
assistance. "Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured and
with the families of those who were killed," White House spokesman Scott
McClellan said. The United Nations said it was sending experts to co-ordinate
the aid effort. The Red Crescent is setting up tents to house survivors.
Friday's quake had a magnitude of at least 6.3, according to Iranian sources.
The US Geological Survey measured it at 6.7.
Bam - about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) south-east
of Tehran - was
on the Unesco's list of
World Heritage Sites. An important regional centre in the 16th and 17th
centuries, it contained many ancient buildings that were not built to withstand
earthquakes. Its 2,000-year-old mud-brick citadel is reported to have been
destroyed. Since 1991, tremors have claimed some 17,600 lives and injured
53,000 people, according to official figures. Reuters reports that there is
little modern earthquake education in Iran.
"Most people think that what God wills will happen. This is absolutely
wrong. This thinking is poisonous," Tehran University
professor Bahram Akasheh
told the news agency.