Villagers bury dead after quake kills at least 220 people

Monday, June 24, 2002

ABDAREH, Iran -- In a matter of seconds, Zahra Gholamzadeh lost her husband, son and home. On Sunday, she stood on the rubble of her mud house, recalling how her life was suddenly turned upside by the earthquake that killed hundreds of people.

"It had a big sound. The horrible sound remains in my ears," she said, sobbing uncontrollably, her surviving son and daughter by her side.

Gholamzadeh was one of the survivors of Saturday's magnitude-6 earthquake that flattened nearly 100 villages in northwestern Iran.

"We lost our dear ones and all we had. In a few seconds, we became miserable. We were never rich but at least we had something. Now everything has become dirt," she said.

State-run media lowered the death toll in the remote quake zone from earlier estimates of 500 or more, now saying at least 220 were killed. However, estimates from individual villages indicate the number could be higher.

Official Iranian media has reported that more than 1,600 people had been injured. Relief workers have put the figure at 1,300.

Thousands homeless

The quake struck at 7:30 a.m. when most people were in their homes of brick, stone or mud. It left thousands homeless, mainly in the Qazvin provincial town of Bou'in-Zahra, the quake's epicenter, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Desert and hills mark Qazvin's terrain. The area, inhabited by tens of thousands of people, is rural but is home to many small factories and businesses producing goods ranging from plastics to medicine and food.

Among the hardest-hit places was Abdareh, a tiny village some 140 miles west of Tehran. The quake toppled its mosque, demolished 40 homes and killed at least 20 people.

In nearby Changooreh, only two of the village's 100 houses were intact. The death toll there was at least 120.

At a cemetery overlooking Abdareh, survivors huddled in groups, most covered in dust and dazed with grief. Men, women and children wailed as they placed the dead in rows of graves made by bulldozers.

"There is nothing left to live for," cried Majid Torabi, 16, who lay his head in the dirt beside his parents' freshly dug graves.

The Iranian Red Crescent Society said nearly 100 villages were badly damaged or destroyed.

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