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IRAN: Desperate search for the living continues

BAM, 31 Dec 2003 (IRIN) - Many of the friends and relatives of the estimated 40,000 dead in the Bam earthquake are in denial and frantically continuing to search for their missing kith and kin, rescue workers told IRIN on Wednesday, five days after the disaster struck.

"Someone heard moaning - last night, they heard moaning!" a man shouts and waves his arms as he runs up to the foreigners in the fluorescent suits. He is panting and beads of sweat have collected on his upper lip.

An Iranian rescue worker with an international search and rescue team translates. They follow the man across the flattened, devastated landscape of Bam, picking their way through the mounds of rubble.

Finally they arrive at the scene. Perched precariously on a pile of crumbling debris are the neighbours and relatives of Leyla and Hasan - a young couple who got married two months ago. Last night, Leyla's uncle heard moaning, he is sure. They have been trying to get through the rubble ever since, but the mound is just too big - not even shovels can make any headway. One old man has not given up: he is frantically digging at the ruins, hurling chunks of brick behind him.

The team members unload their equipment as they mount the site. The throng around them falls silent. All that can be heard now are the palm trees rustling in the wind and, in the background, the clink-clink of shovels.

The team send the Iranian rescue worker down into the small pit where Leyla and Hasan are said to have been heard. He shouts down: "Knock three times if you hear me." Again and again he shouts. One of the neighbours holding a shovel trips on a brick - 20 faces turn around to silence him. Silence is crucial. "Leyla, Hasan!" the worker calls.

Suddenly the ground roars and shakes, reverberating through everyone's bodies. A moment of panic engulfs the air and people scramble around. Only an aftershock. Calm returns. The rescue operation resumes. But there is no knocking, not a sound from Leyla or Hasan.

Only 2,000 people have been pulled out alive since the earthquake, which measured between 6.3 and 6.7 on the Richter scale, struck Bam and the surrounding region. Bam's ancient citadel, a world heritage site and a major tourist attraction, was completely destroyed along with around 70 percent of buildings in the city.

There are 1,500 international rescuers left in Bam, from 20 different countries, but their numbers are shrinking by the hour. At the height of the international effort, there were 1,700 people from 30 different countries. Seven teams have already left, after concluding that they will not find any more survivors.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. Copyright UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003

... Payvand News - 12/31/03 ... --

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