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1978: Thousands dead in Iran earthquake

AUDIO : Quake survivor says he unearthed 110 bodies

More than 11,000 people are feared dead after an earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale hit the south-east region of Iran.

The three-minute quake, the world's strongest this year, struck at 1938 local time this evening.

The town of Tabas, 600 miles (965km) from Tehran, has been completely flattened and 40 villages within a 30-mile (48-km) radius of the epicentre have been damaged.


"One giant heave, and the town turned into a graveyard."

Eye-witness

The shock demolished mud-walled houses and brick structures alike. It is estimated that just 2,000 of the 13,000 inhabitants of Tabas are still alive.

Doctors killed

An eye-witness and survivor described the scene. "One giant heave, and the town turned into a graveyard. All that is left are thousands of bodies, mounds of ruins and hundreds of dazed survivors," he said.

It is reported that all the town's doctors perished.

More than 700 soldiers have been drafted in to help with the relief operations and medical teams, field hospitals, food and other supplies are being flown in.

Water and electricity supplies have been cut and all communication lines into Tabas have also been destroyed. Water is being brought in from Mashad, nine hours' drive away.

Survivors and aid workers on the ground have appealed for international assistance.

Local people are frantically pulling bodies from the rubble and taking them to the cemetery but aid workers have already warned of disease and infection.

The Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, has announced three days of national mourning.

The last major earthquake to strike Iran was in 1962 when 10,000 people were killed in the north-west region of the country.

In Context
The final number of those who died rose to 26,000.

Rescue teams continued the clean-up operation in Tabas and surrounding villages for several weeks.

However, there was widespread discontent with the way the Iranian government handled the aftermath of the quake and this fuelled growing opposition to the Shah.

Four months later, on 16 January 1979m, the Shah and his family were forced into exile.

Iran is very vulnerable to earthquakes - the capital, Tehran, is known to sit on at least 100 fault lines.

In December 2003 a quake in Bam killed about 30,000 people and, in February 2005, more than 500 people died in the Zarand area in another quake.


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