Quake Aftermath in Iran
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RICHARD VAUGHAN: Eight-year-old Zahra Azimi is recovering in a French field hospital. She was pulled from the rubble of her home after six days. Amazingly, she had only minor leg injuries.
An 80-year-old blind and deaf woman at the same tent hospital also spent six days waiting to be rescued. Her only injury was a broken shoulder, from which she’s expected to fully recover. Several babies have been born since the earthquake. Three boys were delivered at the French field hospital and two girls at a Ukrainian one.
They provide glimmers of light amidst so much tragedy. It’s been an international effort to temper the effects of the mass-scale destruction in Bam. American aid workers are amongst those who rushed to the remote region to help, assistance which stands out as rare contact between the nations since relations broke down in 1979.
Despite the hardships, the Iranian hosts had armfuls of presents with which to welcome Americans.
RAY SUAREZ: Earlier this evening I spoke with one of those Americans: Dr. Bill Barker, a member of the Fairfax County, Virginia, urban search and rescue team. The team arrived in Iran earlier this week. Welcome to the program, sir.
DR. BILL BARKER: Thank you.
RAY SUAREZ: Dr. Barker, there have been conflicting reports about whether anyone has survived more than a few days under the rubble. As a medical professional, how could you explain somebody holding on longer than the 72 hours that a lot of rescue workers put at as the outside figure?
DR. BILL BARKER: The 72 hours is kind of an outside figure for any sort of widespread or significant numbers of survivors. But people can actually live in the rubble for, depending on weather conditions and that sort of thing, as much as five to seven days.
Usually when they do, they’ve been trapped in what we call a void space where a wall or a roof has fallen and forms like a triangular area and they don’t sustain any crush injury, but you they can’t get out because they’re trapped in an area with no exit. There have been people that have survived longer.
There was one or two in Taiwan, when we went to that earthquake, that were rescued after I believe it was seven or eight days. But in that particular case, there actually was an aquarium that was not broken in the earthquake that they were using for water. And if you’ve got water and the temperatures are reasonable, could you probably go two or three weeks, although I don’t think that’s going to happen very often.
RAY SUAREZ: Give us an idea of how the place is functioning now these many days after the earthquake. Is it a trial still getting water, getting food to those who have remained behind?
DR. BILL BARKER: Actually, water has not been a problem in terms of drinking water. We went out and did an assessment to assist the U.N. today on health care, sanitation, structural needs and found that water was not an issue, drinking water, that there are large quantities of bottled water being brought in.
I spoke with a group of social workers and social work students from Tehran that are here helping, and they said that food isn’t a problem either. They said that, while the people would like to have some fresh food, that everybody’s getting enough food.
RAY SUAREZ: In the initial days, a lot of the pictures coming from the earthquake area showed people fleeing the city. Have many people who live in Bam normally stayed behind?
DR. BILL BARKER: I can’t give you any sort of exact number or even percentage, but that was one of the things that was pretty clear to us today was that a large portion of the populace has left the city.
Talking with some of our interpreters and some of the other local people, most of them have gone to other areas both within the state and throughout the country where they have friends or family. Many have gone to the capital city of the state or province, Kerman.
We noticed the same thing as we were coming up here, that the highways were just jammed with trucks and cars full of people and personal belongings. But there are quite a lot of people that are still here and living in tents in the streets.
RAY SUAREZ: So they’re not taking advantage of the tent cities that are being built for them by international relief agencies?
DR. BILL BARKER: Well, my understanding is that the one tent city that is well under construction that I was able to see the day before yesterday, they actually have not opened it for habitation yet, that they are hoping to move people in within the next few days. But apparently there’s some resistance on the part of the local population.
I guess they don’t want to leave what’s left of their home. The Iranian Red Crescent was very well prepared for this disaster, and in fact all through the city are tents with their logo on it. Apparently they have warehouses throughout the country, and those that are still here seem to be living at least in their general vicinity in the quadrant of the city that we surveyed for that.
RAY SUAREZ: What are the biggest medical challenges for those who remain behind in the city?
DR. BILL BARKER: Sanitation is probably the biggest issue. I spoke with a Greek doctor from Doctors to the World at the local Khomeini hospital that was collapsed. They’ve set up a field hospital in the parking lot, and he said they’re starting to see some cases of diarrhea. A meeting at the U.N. Health Committee today, they have started official surveillance of that and they’re preparing some standard treatment protocols.
But sanitation, even things as simple as having tooth brushes and toothpaste, personal hygiene that seems to be the big biggest problem. But at least so far, it does not seem that anything is even on the verge of reaching epidemic proportions. But that’s always a risk after a disaster like this.
RAY SUAREZ: What kind of reception have you received as a member of an American team?
DR. BILL BARKER: It’s been wonderful. The people have been very welcoming. We visited an orphanage during our assessment trip today, and the physician that was running the orphanage invited us to stay for dinner, which we couldn’t do because we were running behind on getting our work done. But that’s really been the reception from everybody.
The people seem to love the fact that the Americans are here to help. When we arrived and were setting up our camp at the area where most of the rescue teams and field hospital personnel are encamped, representative of the local revolutionary guard came over and gave us gift bags with pistachios and some pistachio candy and a few other traditional Iranian items and wished us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And several people have apologized to us that we have to be here during our holidays.
Obviously there’s not a lot of Christmas celebration here, and this actually isn’t their new year either, but they’ve gone out of their way to thank us for coming during our holidays and being away from our families. And I felt very safe. It’s been very nice.
RAY SUAREZ: Just from your conversation, it seems that a good part of the world has already responded to the plight of this city.
DR. BILL BARKER: Yes, there were search and rescue teams from I believe eighteen to twenty different countries that were here when we arrived. There have been others that have arrived since. There are field hospitals from Ukraine, I believe there’s one from Russia and Belgium in addition to one from the United States that started operations today.
RAY SUAREZ: Dr. Bill Barker, Happy New Year. Thanks for being with us.
DR. BILL BARKER: Well, thank you. And happy new year to you.