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Promise to rebuild quake-hit city
( 2003-12-30 16:26) (CNN.com)

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has promised to rebuild the ancient city of Bam, which was leveled by a devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of at least 28,000 people.

A woman mourns as the body of a relative is buried in Bam.
Officials raised the death toll in the southeastern Iranian city on Tuesday, saying the number of bodies buried in mass graves had reached 28,000.

"Relying on the cooperation and assistance of the Iranian nation, we will reconstruct Bam," Khatami said late Monday, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

"From now on, we all need to talk about life, and hand in hand, try to reconstruct the quake-stricken regions."

The nation's top spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also inspected the quake damage on Monday and urged all Iranians and organizations to do what they could to help.

"Aid should continue to come so that, God willing, it will be possible to rebuild the city of Bam better and this time stronger than before," he said.

Though international rescue teams joined the effort to find survivors, rescuers held out little hope of finding any.

But there was some good news, with three people being pulled alive from under the rubble by rescuers in the past day, Ted Pearn, with the U.N. Disaster Assessment Coordination Team in Bam, told CNN.

"We must continue to be hopeful somewhere people might be recovered and combine that with other aid needs or concerns like disease and shelter," he said on Tuesday.

Pearn said it was important rescuers scanned all parts of the ruined city in a coordinated manner. He added that by the end of Tuesday, aid officials would have an "overall picture of the (aid) requirements" needed in Bam.

Much of the city, devastated by the 6.6-magnitude earthquake, remains unsearched by rescue teams or even by any of the thousands of Iranians who picked through the wreckage.

Efforts shift

Aid efforts are shifting to focus on assisting those who survived the horrific quake.

Tens of thousands of people are homeless. Many of them are sleeping in tents donated by international aid agencies.

Planes delivering supplies and personnel from at least 21 countries -- including the United States -- converged on the airport in the provincial capital of Kerman, where they were unloaded for the 120-mile drive to Bam.

A girl with a broken leg was discovered unconscious Monday in the debris left from a house, an Iranian relief worker said, according to The Associated Press.

"The only reason she remained alive was because the roof had not totally collapsed," Shokrollah Abbasi said.

"There was air for her to breathe. We found her in the kitchen. There was a plate of rice near her, and it appeared to me that the food had helped her remain alive."

Mostafa Biderani and his wife, Zahra Nazari, cried near a destroyed police station, beating themselves in grief, the AP reported.

Biderani told the AP he had driven hundreds of miles to check on the safety of his son in the police station. "But all my hopes were dashed when I saw the police station had collapsed," Biderani said. "I pulled out my son with my bare hands."

U.N. aid officials said water and electricity had been restored to major parts of the city. They said there were critical shortages of medicines, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, stoves, blankets and food.

Reformist newspapers in Iran lambasted the government as ill-prepared and blamed it for leaving Iranians living in fragile homes with no reinforcements.

Structural engineer Mohammad Ehsani said, "The technology is there to construct earthquake-protected structures."

Though the cost of building an earthquake-resistant structure is not significantly higher than ordinary construction, Ehsani said, these codes aren't followed in many countries in the region, including Iran.

Even new construction does not follow building codes, he said. A similar earthquake in the Iranian capital of Tehran "would be quite tragic," he added.

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