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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February 2005, 14:25 GMT
'No-one knew what to do'
Rescue workers are still trying to help those affected by an earthquake in south-eastern Iran which left at least 420 people dead and hundreds more injured and homeless.

The BBC News website spoke to local journalist Nasser Karimi, who described his visits to those villages devastated by the quake.

I visited Houtkan village, where about 1,700 people lived.

As soon as I arrived, I saw ruins and rubble. There were men and women crying and shouting the names of their children, trying to find them. Some kids were crying and looking for their parents.

Many were weeping, asking why such a thing had happened. There was panic - they were looking at bodies all around, and the building remains, in disbelief.

A woman I met was sitting next to the bodies of her two children
One father I saw was desperately calling out the names of his daughters. A woman I met was sitting next to the bodies of her two children, one was 11, the other only seven.

She did not respond to any questions from those trying to help her, she just stared at a fixed point.

Everyone seemed in complete shock about what had happened. And nobody seemed to know what to do.

When the rescue teams arrived, they quickly began evacuating the injured people. They started uncovering some dead bodies, and relatives gathered around them, crying and weeping as they beat themselves in their faces over the bodies.

In Houtkan alone there are about 150 dead, and the number is expected to increase to about 250 to 300 because the village was so totally destroyed. Only a school building and the police station remain.

These buildings are newly built and stronger and had good frames, but the villagers' buildings were made only of raw materials like mud and stones, so they just collapsed.

In Houtkan, every house roof is connected to another building. It's also located on a hill and continues down to the valley, maybe 2,000 metres above sea level. So its location, combined with the terrible snow and rain, means that rescue teams have struggled getting there.

On Tuesday, visibility was less than 50 metres and rescue teams had to work in the mud.

Children's plight

The bodies were taken to the coroners at the local police station. They ask people for family names and write them on the feet of the corpses to help recognise them later on.

Iran earthquake survivors
Many survivors have lost family members and homes to the quake
All the injured were transferred to Zarand and Kerman, the nearest cities. There are no closer hospitals and all the villages are completely scattered. At least 40 were severely damaged.

Many people suffered broken bones and there were some terrible head injuries. Those children whose parents are dead or missing are being put in orphan houses in the main cities until they can be claimed by relatives.

Water and electricity are cut off, and the roads by the village are broken in several parts because of the heavy rain and earthquake damage. Workers are trying to repair them.

There is only one phone in the village which is operational, but at least some people could connect to outside numbers. Relief is arriving, but people are still waiting for tents and blankets and water for drinking.

Learning from Bam

Still, it seems rescue teams have learned a lot from the Bam earthquake. This time they moved quickly and are working properly. There is less mismanagement, which may explain why Iran has not applied for international aid.

Currently, those left homeless are being accommodated in Zarand city, and the Red Crescent has also distributed tents in some areas I visited.

Some people from Bam even rushed to help those affected. I have met about 20 people in a group who arrived from Bam to help in the affected areas.

They were evacuating bodies from the ruins, and two of them were helping repair water pipes at the school building - where a lot of people are sheltering - so people can have access to water.

It's only the second day after the tragedy and people are still struggling to cope with the emotional trauma of losing friends and relatives. It may not be as bad as Bam but it has still affected many people.

Race to reach Iran quake victims
22 Feb 05 |  Middle East
In pictures: Iran earthquake
22 Feb 05 |  In Pictures
Hundreds killed in Iranian quake
22 Feb 05 |  Middle East
Survivors recall Iran quake loss
25 Dec 04 |  Middle East
Recovery brings social change to Bam
09 Aug 04 |  Middle East
Concealed fault caused Bam quake
15 Jun 04 |  Science/Nature


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