Sat, Dec 27, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Earthquake destroys Iranian city

AP , TEHRAN, IRAN

Soldiers search for bodies in Bam after an earthquake 1,000km southeast of Tehran yesterday. The quake killed as many as 10,000 people.

PHOTO: AP

An earthquake may have killed as many as 10,000 people when it devastated a city in southeast Iran early yesterday, an Iranian legislator said after speaking to officials on the scene.

Hasan Khoshrou said a survey undertaken by helicopter indicated that over 60 percent of Bam's houses had been destroyed. The devastation was "beyond imagination," he reported local officials as telling him.

The earthquake of magnitude 6.3 hit Bam, a city of 80,000 people, at 5:28am Iranian time, state television reported. Its epicenter was outside Bam, which is about 1,000km southeast of the capital Tehran.

"The quake hit the city when most of the people were in bed, raising fears that the death toll may go higher," said Khoshrou, who spoke from Kerman province. He is one of the province's representatives in parliament.

The governor of Kerman province, Mohammad Ali Karimi, said: "The death toll is very high."

"Many people are buried under the rubble," Karimi told state television. Later he told state radio: "We do not have any precise information. What is certain is that the old structure of the city has been totally destroyed."

Hardly any buildings in Iran are built to withstand earthquakes, although the country sits on several major faultlines and temblors are frequent.

A reporter for Turkey's private NTV channel said Bam looks as if it had been hit by a bomb.

"People are trying to pull bodies out of the rubble. All windows are smashed," said the reporter, who was in Bam.

"People have started walking toward Kerman -- many complaining of a lack of aid," the reporter said.

Kerman city is 190km northwest of Bam.

Iran's Red Crescent, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross, said rescue and relief teams had been sent to Bam from numerous provinces, including Tehran.

Grisly job

"We are doing everything we can to rescue the injured and unearth the dead," the television quoted Karimi as saying.

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.

The citadel of Bam was destroyed, television reported. The oldest part of the fortress dates to about 2,000 years ago, but most was built in the 15th to 18th centuries. It attracts thousands of tourists a year.

"The historical quarter of the city has been completely destroyed and caused great human loss," said Mehran Nourbakhsh, chief spokesman for the Red Crescent.

"Authorities have demanded immediate blood donations to save the lives of those who have been admitted to hospital in the provincial capital of Kerman," the television newscaster said.

She added telephone links with Bam have been severed. Authorities were in contact with the Bam area through radio and satellite phone links. The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted the Red Crescent's Nourbakhsh as saying water and electricity links to Bam had also been cut.

State media said the quake had also damaged towns and villages around Bam. Khoshrou said the population of the Bam region is about 230,000.

The quake had several aftershocks, one of magnitude 5.3, IRNA quoted the geophysics institute of Tehran University as saying.

In Iran, quakes of more than magnitude 5 usually kill people.

In Washington, the US Geological Survey reported the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.7.

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