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Big Iran quake may kill 20,000 in ancient city
( 2003-12-26 18:59) (Agencies)

A powerful earthquake may have killed at least 20,000 people in southeastern Iran, government officials told state-run media, as emergency teams scrambled to deal with the crisis.

Preliminary estimates so far put the death toll at about 2,000.

Graphic showing the location of the Iran earthquake(AFP)
The quake was centered near the ancient Silk Road city of Bam about 610 miles (975 km) southeast of the capital, Tehran. Bam has a population of about 80,000 people.

State television said about 60 per cent of the buildings in Bam, a popular tourist attraction, had collapsed in the earthquake which measured 6.3 on the Richter scale.

"So far we can only confirm 2,000 dead but the number is sure to rise," a senior official from Kerman province, where Bam is situated, told Reuters in Tehran by telephone.

State media said two of Bam's hospital's collapsed, crushing many of the staff, and remaining hospitals were full. Wounded were now being ferried to neighboring towns.

(A guide to earthquake magnitude and severity) 

Many people were believed to be buried under debris, state media said, while appealing for people to donate blood.

"There is a lot of dead and injured in Bam city and everything is being done to take them out," Kerman province governor Mohammad Ali Karimi said.

A large part of Bam's ancient citadel, one of Iran's best-loved tourist magnets, had been destroyed, Karimi said. State television said the whole castle could have crumbled.

Witnesses said the road to Bam, a city of some 200,000 people, was choked with ambulances and people desperate to find family members.

No official estimates of the number of dead or injured were available as the government mounted a major rescue operation. Houses in the date-growing area are traditionally made of mud-brick.

The quake struck at about 5:30 a.m. (10 p.m. EST Thursday) when most people in the city would probably have been asleep.

"There was a lot of damage in (Bam)," Karimi said, adding that a crisis headquarters had been set up.


The official IRNA news agency said Red Crescent rescue teams had been dispatched to the quake-hit area in Kerman province.

Another quake, measuring 4.0 on the Richter scale, hit the oil producing town of Masjed Soleyman in the southwestern Khuzestan province. IRNA said there were no reports of damage. Quakes are a regular occurrence in Iran, which is crossed by several major fault lines in the earth's structure.

In June last year, a tremor measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale hit northern Iran, killing at least 229 people and injuring more than 1,000.

Some 35,000 people were killed in 1990 when earthquakes of up to 7.7 on the Richter scale hit the northwest of Iran. Tehran was hit by a quake of about seven on the Richter scale in 1830.

The U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center said its measuring equipment indicated Friday's quake had a magnitude of 6.7.

It said the epicenter of the "strong earthquake" appeared to be about 610 miles southeast of Tehran.

A leading Iranian earthquake expert told Reuters in October that earthquake education in Iran was very poor.

"Most people think what God wills, will happen. This is absolutely wrong. This thinking is poisonous," said Bahram Akasheh, professor of geophysics at Tehran University.

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