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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 December, 2003, 11:13 GMT
Tending to Iran's shattered city
Alastair Leithead
Alastair Leithead
BBC correspondent in Bam, Iran

The death toll in Iran's earthquake has reached 28,000 according to the provincial governor and the estimated final figure may be as much as 50,000.

Tens of thousands of tents and blankets have been distributed to many of the 100,000 people who have been left homeless.

Bam burial site
Bodies are being cleared and buried quickly to prevent disease spreading

Another body arrives at the mass grave to the west of the city as people crowd around, desperate to catch a glimpse of the face to see whether or not that person is a member of their family or a friend.

The corpses arrive, many of them just in blankets, having been dug out of the rubble.

The clerics then place them on to white shrouds.

They are photographed with an identity number and logged in a book so relatives may eventually be able to track down their loved ones.

Then they are wrapped and washed in dust before being put on stretchers and carried to the mass graves.

Growing numbers

Diggers right on the horizon of this wide-open desert are excavating huge trenches for the many more bodies that are expected to arrive this week and well into next week.

Meanwhile, aid agencies - brought in within hours of the earthquake to search for the living - are pulling out.

Satellite image of Bam
Pictures from space show about 70% of Bam is now in ruins
Their sniffer dogs are finding nothing but corpses.

Some British emergency teams plan to leave on Tuesday. They believe there is now no hope of anyone still being found alive.

Rob Holden is a crisis manager for the Department for International Development.

He said the inevitable switch from search and rescue operation to a relief operation happened in the last couple of days.

"Getting the homeless sheltered, making sure they are warm, they have got access to safe water and they have got access to food and so on, is now the priority," he added.

Water is handed out to all who need it from the back of a truck.

Relief workers load a plane
Rescue workers go home as relief workers prepare tents and blankets to go
Blankets are being distributed and there are now many thousands of tents, supplied by the Red Crescent, the Iranian Government and international donors.

But for those forced to go without, the nights are bitterly cold here.

More must be done, and quickly, to avoid a further humanitarian crisis for those who are left behind.

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