Iran quake survivors tell of brushes with death

Friday, January 2, 2004

KERMAN, Iran -- Mehrdad Vakili remembers his father screaming, "Get out of the house!" as Iran's devastating earthquake began shaking the walls of the family's home. The 12-year-old boy ran but was immediately pinned by rubble.

Mehrdad was rescued. His father and younger brother were not.

"I don't want to live without them," Mehrdad said Thursday as a female relative dabbed his tears with a handkerchief at his bedside in a Kerman hospital, where he was recovering from a broken leg and severe stomach wounds.

Survivors brought to the provincial capital recounted narrow brushes with death during the Dec. 26 earthquake that struck at dawn, wiping out entire families in their homes, killing nearly 30,000 people and devastating the city of Bam.

Thursday marked the seventh day after the quake and was a day of mass mourning, with Iran's supreme leader holding a memorial service in Bam.

At a cemetery outside Bam where corpses have been buried in mass graves, families clustered around burial mounds, hugging and sobbing.

'It's God's will'

One mourner, Yadolah Khodabakhshzade, lost 18 family members, who were sleeping in three adjacent houses that collapsed in the quake. "It's God's will," he said haltingly.

In an effort to identify bodies, police have set up three laptop computers at the Bam cemetery that show a morbid slideshow of 400 photographs of the faces of unclaimed bodies.

Estimates on the death toll varied. A U.N. report that cited government figures said the death toll by Tuesday was at least 33,000.

Although hopes for survivors were fading, workers said they rescued three more people -- two on Wednesday and one on Thursday. Normally, people trapped under collapsed buildings can survive three days, a mark that passed Monday morning.

At Kerman's Afzalipor Hospital, other survivors recalled their traumas in the rubble.

Hadi Pashouei was buried up to his neck by the wreckage of the Bam police station where he was on duty when the quake hit -- and remained there for three agonizing hours until he was discovered and pulled out.

"It was worse than hell," Pashouei, 19, said. "Bricks and cement piled on top of me. You want to escape, you can't move. You have pain, there's no cure."

Mehrdad, the 12-year-old, was trapped for two hours until his uncle dug him out. "My dad was buried alive as he rushed to save us," the boy said. "Nobody was able to save the life of my dad and brother."

Three-year-old Ali Abbaszadeh lost both his parents and seven siblings. The child lay in his hospital bed with a bandage around his head, a broken hand and injuries to his kidneys and legs. "Mom, mom," he cries aloud.

"He has wounds all over his body," said nurse Afaq Pakaqideh. "But he suffers more from the loss of his parents than his wounds."

Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Bam contributed to this report.

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