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Iran: New death toll in northern quake

TEHRAN, 31 May 2004 (IRIN) - The Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) has said that 35 people were killed and 278 injured in Friday's earthquake in northern Iran.

photo: ISNA

The rescue phase is drawing to a close as attention is focusing on providing food and shelter before the rehabilitation phase can begin.

The forested Caspian province of Mazandaran sustained the most damage, but mountain roads blocked by falling rocks and boulders have made access difficult. IRCS spokesperson Bahram Lahooti told IRIN that the tea-growing town of Lahejan has been badly damaged, with up to 40 percent of buildings destroyed.

Most people in Lahejan work in tea factories where they dry and ferment tea leaves. The town is heavily economically dependent on tea growing as Lahehjan produces almost all of Iran's tea. It is not yet known whether any of the factories have been damaged by the quake.

The IRCS has sent 4,000 tents, 2,000 blankets, 480 cooking appliances, 600 rugs and 120,350 kg of food to the province of Mazandaran. Eight rescue teams with sniffer dogs have been sent to the region, as well as 13 doctors, four nurses and 252 IRCS volunteer rescue workers.

An army helicopter assessing damage caused by the earthquake crashed in northern Iran on Saturday, killing everyone on board, including top provincial officials.

Masoud Emami, the governor of Qazvin province - one of the areas worst affected by the earthquake - was among six people who died in the crash. The deputy governor and the province's police chief were also killed. The helicopter was one of two dispatched to the region to assess damage and deliver relief. The cause of the crash is unclear. According to the Iranian student news agency ISNA, two journalists on the helicopter also died.

Neighbouring Qazvin province and villages west of Tehran were also damaged in the quake. In Qazvin, four doctors and 118 rescue workers are helping survivors while two doctors and 331 rescue workers have been sent to the affected areas near Tehran.

Lahooti told IRIN that due to the high number of villages in the provinces affected, statistics are not yet exact. "There may be more than 3,000 villages in the area that have been affected - as there are so many villages we don't yet know how many people are homeless or how many houses have been destroyed," he said.

Among the dead were 16 people who were killed on the Chalus Road, a treacherous mountain highway that crosses the Alborz mountain range and connects Tehran to the Caspian coast. Rescue workers have been working non-stop to clear the crushed cars and boulders that litter the road and left many motorists stranded.

Friday's earthquake, which measured 6.2 on the Richter scale, was followed by two aftershocks on Saturday and Sunday in the same region. The aftershocks were also felt in Tehran, causing many residents to panic.

Hundreds of Tehranis have been sleeping in tents in parks across the capital, fearful that a stronger earthquake would bring devastation to the country's capital.

"When the earthquake struck my whole house shook," Ali, a taxi driver, told IRIN. "Since then I haven't slept in my house. We've been sleeping in a tent in our local park. In fact, most of our neighbours have left their houses too. They've driven their cars right up to each other and are sleeping in the spaces between them," he said.

Ali lives in southern Tehtran where most of the buildings are old and many are crumbling. These houses shook precariously in the earthquake and many windows were broken, scaring residents. Iran's Geographical Institute predicted that in the event of an earthquake, most of southern Tehran would be flattened.

A United Nations delegation today visited the province of Mazandaran - the worst affected area. The Iranian news agency IRNA reported that the UN delegation visited the stricken towns of Kelardasht, Marzanabad and Kojour to assess the extent of the destruction. IRNA reported that the UN would be sending aid to the area.

The earthquake comes only five months after at least 20,000 people were killed in the southwestern city of Bam when an earthquake, measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale, razed the city to the ground.

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. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

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