Deadly Tremor in Iran
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GWEN IFILL: The Iran earthquake and its massive death toll: We begin with a report from the city of Bam. The correspondent is Neil Connery of Independent Television News.
NEIL CONNERY: It is a wasteland. House after house reduced to rubble, street after street demolished. This is the view from above which greeted us as we headed over Bam. We flew in on an Iranian army helicopter. The scale of the damage spread below us was difficult to comprehend. Destruction as far as the eye could see. The famous citadel also bears the scars of the darkest chapter in Bam’s history, but it’s the seminaries which speak of the unimaginable horror to befall this place.
Each victim is given a minute’s prayer. There’s no time for any more when you’re burying 20,000 people. The Avardhi [ph] family came back later to pay their own respects. Eight members of one family killed by the earthquake, four of them children.
As they mourn, the diggers carry on their work in the distance cutting fresh trenches for the dead. Outside the aid agencies the survivors wait for whatever they can get their hands on to help stay alive. Dr. Elha El Motin [ph] told me chaos and despair are spreading.
DOCTOR: Day by day the situation is worse, I think.
NEIL CONNERY: What hope can you give these people then? What can you do for these people at the gate?
DOCTOR: Nothing. Nothing.
NEIL CONNERY: Rescuers from around the world including this British team have been busy in Bam, but hope of finding any more survivors has effectively vanished. The British will start to head home tomorrow.
JAMES BROWN: The window of opportunity of finding people alive is now coming to a close. It’s time for our professional team to go home and for new people to come in and start the relief efforts and try and save thousands of people from harsh environment they’re trying to live in at the moment.
NEIL CONNERY: The clearing up has started to get underway, but the challenge faced will be immense. Very little has been left unscathed here by the earthquake.
This is what remains of part of the center of Bam. Whenever you go in this city, these are the scenes that will greet you. In an instant thousands of lives and homes have been ripped apart. All that is left is devastation. In the past 24 hours, there have been more aftershocks. Survivors now face a fourth night in freezing temperatures out on the streets. Bewildered and battered by a force of nature.
GWEN IFILL: Terence Smith takes the story from there.
TERENCE SMITH: Joining us by phone from Bam is Halvor Lauritzsen of the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent. He’s the team leader in Bam.
Mr. Lauritzsen, thank you very much for joining us. Can you tell me from your perspective on the ground here what the most urgent needs are right now in Bam?
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: First of all I will have to say that the search-and-rescue phase is slowly coming to an end here. The hope of finding people alive in the rubble is fading from hour to hour and even more from day to day, but still it’s a challenge to give all the families the most basic needs in terms of tents, foods, warmth clothes, clean water and the most medical services.
TERENCE SMITH: You say the hope of finding more survivors is fading fast. But some were found today, were they not?
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: That’s correct. It was found three people alive but at the same time it was found 1,100 people dead. The nights are getting quite cold here. Three nights ago it was minus nine degrees here. It is quite clear that you cannot survive very long here without water and the fact that the cold out in the rubble.
TERENCE SMITH: Mr. Lauritzsen, is there a great effort now to bury the dead and is that in part because of concern about disease?
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: Absolutely. So far the authorities have buried 20,000 people. That’s the official number of deaths now. But in addition families and private persons have buried about 5,000, so I believe that number is now 25,000.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you expect it to grow even further?
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: Well, not very much higher. I would guess it may reach 30,000, may reach 30,000.
TERENCE SMITH: Mr. Lauritzsen, I know that you have experience in other earthquake disasters of major proportions. How does this compare for someone such as yourself?
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: Well, this is somehow special because a 6.3 on the Richter scale is not an extraordinary strong earthquake but it seems all the buildings and houses were constructed of mud brick with no steel. They are extremely fragile. You can see the total collapse of these houses. That’s quite special for this part of the world.
TERENCE SMITH: Are you continuing to have aftershocks after the earthquake and do they pose a danger?
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: Absolutely. It’s about 85 percent of the buildings are completely destroyed. Those buildings still standing they have very dangerous cracks inside. You cannot go inside any building basically right now. There have been many aftershocks and the strongest we’ve had is 5.2 on the Richter scale.
TERENCE SMITH: I know that there have been great numbers of relief workers coming into the Bam area. Have you been able to establish relatively good coordination among them and cooperation with the Iranian authorities?
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: Absolutely. We have very good cooperation with the Iranian authorities. And we are happy that they are now receiving this relief aid with open arms. Among each other with the U.N. and the Red Cross and Red Crescent, we also have good coordination. But there are many, many relief … many, many organizations and especially the small organizations may not have been properly included in this coordination. And they may have also been disappointed in their rescue work.
TERENCE SMITH: I have read that the leaders of Iran have pledged to rebuild Bam if it is possible to do so. From where you sit and what you see, is it possible?
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: I think it’s possible, but that will take tremendous efforts and you have to start I mean literally on scratch with everything. But of course it’s possible absolutely.
TERENCE SMITH: This construction you’re talking about, the mud-brick buildings and houses, I take it that that was a major contributor to the extent of the damage?
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: Yes, absolutely. You are correct. And I hope that this construction policy will change from now on.
TERENCE SMITH: Is anything being done in that regard in other cities? Iran, after all, has had numerous earthquakes, three in the 1990s alone.
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: Yes there has been. I mean, there are restrictions now in many cities that you are not allowed to construct more than two stories and you have to have proper steel inside and you have to have the proper quality on the cement, but as you know this is an old historical city so it was probably not imposed 2,000 years ago.
TERENCE SMITH: Halvor Lauritzsen, thank you so much for describing the situation to us.
HALVOR LAURITZSEN: Okay. You’re welcome. Bye-bye.