Ali Moradi, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer, told reporters that tribal chiefs in Bam have estimated that as many as 40,000 people may have died in the quake, The Washington Post reported Monday.
“But we can’t say that this is true,” Moradi said, according to the Post. “We have to count the bodies.”
The earthquake, which the U.S. Geological Service said registered 6.6 on the Richter scale, is estimated to have leveled 60 percent of the city’s buildings. Relief workers reported that some 100,000 people may be left homeless.
Shoddy building construction is to blame for much of the death and devastation, earthquake engineer Farzad Naiem told the NewsHour on Friday.
“The construction quality in Iran, particularly in rural areas and villages, are poor,” Naiem said. “They have been poor for many, many years, and they continue to be poor.”
International relief teams and supplies have been flooding into Bam, and press reports indicate a very organized effort is underway to clean up the city and to care for survivors. However, emergency crews are being hampered by bad weather, aftershocks and looters.
On Monday, Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami called for more aid.
“The scale of the catastrophe is so big that whatever has been done is not yet sufficient,” he said during a visit to Bam. “I hope more and more aid will arrive in coming hours.”
Reports from the city indicated that after three days of sifting through the rubble emergency crews are transitioning from a rescue to recovery operation.
“We’re slowly running out of time,” Luebbo Roehwer, spokesman for the Red Cross in Germany, told the Reuters news service. “There is hardly any chance of anyone (buried alive) surviving beyond today.”
Mass burials of as many as 400 bodies have reportedly begun in an attempt to stem the spread of disease. Bodies that can’t be buried right away are reportedly being sprayed with disinfectant.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also visited Bam on Monday, vowing to rebuild the city.
“We share your sorrow, those lost are our children. We will rebuild Bam stronger than before,” Khamenei said, according to Reuters.