ANKARA, 19 Jan 2004 (IRIN) - The death toll from last month's devastating earthquake in the ancient Iranian city of Bam may ultimately reach 45,000, officials told IRIN on Monday, making it the country's worst recorded disaster ever.
"The official figure, which has been confirmed by the government, is 42,000 people," Hasan Esandiar, head of international operations for the Iranian Red Crescent Society (ICRS) told IRIN from Bam. "It seems this figure will increase as each day additional bodies are being found."
Days earlier, Tehran raised the death toll from the devastating earthquake to 41,000, with a close aide to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying on Friday the final figure could reach 45,000, an AFP report said.
The announcement of the toll, which previously stood at 30,000 to 35,000 dead, was given during Khamenei's second tour of the destroyed southeastern city and an inspection of relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts, the report explained.
More than 30,000 people were injured and thousands left homeless after the 26 December quake, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, leveled the city of largely mud-brick homes and the two thousand year-old Arg-e-Bam (Bam Citadel), the largest earthen structure in the world. According to estimates, about 80 percent of the city was destroyed and the citadel extensively damaged.
Asked for an update on relief operations, Esandiar maintained the ICRS was currently providing assistance to some 250,000 people in the city and surrounding areas for the next six months, including food, shelter and other relief items.
"The most urgent needs now are latrines, showers and other hygiene facilities," Esandiar said, particularly noting the needs of hygiene facilities for women. "Tents and blankets have been provided," he added, noting, however, these too were also needed to replenish ICRS's stocks if the relief organisation was to effectively respond to additional natural disasters in the country.
"We have used all our resources and need to replenish them immediately," the ICRS official said, noting some six provinces of the country had recently been badly affected by flooding.
Meanwhile, an earthquake measuring 4.2 degrees on the open-ended Richter scale jolted the city of Shahreza in the central province of Isfahan early on Monday. The seismological base of the Geophysics Institute, affiliated to Tehran University, said the tremor, epicentered in an area southwest of the city, occurred at 2:59 hours local time (23:29 GMT on Sunday). There were no reports of casualties or damage to property, the official Iranian news agency (IRNA) reported.
Iran is situated on some of the world's most active seismic fault lines and quakes of varying magnitudes are usual, making disaster preparedness in the nation of 68 million a key issue.
Monday's latest death toll makes the Bam quake the worst recorded disaster in Iran. In June 1990, 35,000 people died and 100,000 were injured, when a quake registering 7.7 on the Richter scale, devastated the Caspian regions of Gilan and Zanjan, leaving some 500,000 people homeless.
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