Quake Death Toll Climbs to 20,000

International specialist rescue workers, among them Germans, have reached the quake site in Iran to search for survivors as Iranian authorities confirmed that the death toll now stood at 20,000.

photo: AP
People flee the city of Bam in Iran after the violent earthquake on Friday.

​​German emergency relief organizations began deploying workers to Iran on Friday to aid the country in coping with one of its worst earthquakes ever. At least 20,000 people are believed to have died and thousands more have been injured in the trembler centered near the historical city of Bam. Early Saturday morning 30 specialists from Germany’s federal disaster relief agency, THW, reached the regional capital of Kerman in southeastern Iran and were on their way to Bam. They are expected to scour the debris of flattened houses for survivors equipped with special sniffer dogs and technical equipment.

In addition to sharing their condolences for those lost in the tragedy, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Interior Minister Otto Schily have all offered the Iranian government whatever help Germany can provide. On Friday, the Foreign Ministry reported that Iran had accepted Germany’s offer, and the first flights carrying aid to the disaster area were expected to depart in the evening.

The Foreign Ministry has also pulled together its disaster relief staff. And German aid organizations have sent out calls for donations.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said that the possible deaths of Germans in the earthquake could not be ruled out and that German officials were in touch with authorities in Tehran to find out more information about possible casualties.

Tens of thousands now homeless

According to Germany’s THW, the federal disaster relief agency, the earthquake in Iran measured 6.3 on the Richter scale and occurred at 3 a.m. in southeastern Iran. The epicenter was located in Bam, a medieval city with a population of 80,000 that lies about 1,000 kilometers southeast of the capital city of Tehran.

The quake has left the city devastated. With as many as 70 percent of the city’s homes destroyed, countless people have been left homeless. The head of the Iranian relief organization Red Crescent said as many as 40,000 families have been affected by the earthquake, which authorities now believe is the country’s worst since 1990, when 35,000 people died in Iran’s biggest-ever quake.

THW is flying rescue teams to Iran and also plans to send mobile facilities for producing safe drinking water and to provide emergency care for the population inside the crisis area. THW has also alerted SEEBA, the rapid action rescue unit it deploys to international crisis areas. SEEBA workers use modern techniques to locate and rescue survivors in the wreckage of buildings. The specialists were last sent abroad in May 2003 to aid in rescue operations after devastating earthquakes in Algeria.

Other German relief agencies are also preparing to send aid workers to Iran. The Malteser Hilfsdienst (the Ambulance Corps of the Order of Malta) said it would send relief staff. UNICEF has offered chemicals needed for water purification, water pumps, tents and medications. Caritas International and German disaster relief organization Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe have also donated €100,000 to the victims of the quake.

Additionally, the German Red Cross has made available €200,000 in immediate relief funds and has also offered search dogs to its Iranian sister organization, the Red Crescent.

Organizations have also called for donations of tents, blankets and medication. Bam, the epicenter of the quake, is at an altitude of over 1,000 meters, and winter clothing will also be needed for residents there.


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