Iranian Rescuers Find Quake Survivors

As search crews despaired of finding more survivors from Iran's devastating earthquake, Monday brought moments of hope: Rescuers pulled a girl out alive from the rubble of her caved-in house, and three men believed dead stirred in their white burial...


BAM, Iran (AP) - As search crews despaired of finding more survivors from Iran's devastating earthquake, Monday brought moments of hope: Rescuers pulled a girl out alive from the rubble of her caved-in house, and three men believed dead stirred in their white burial shrouds.

More than 25,000 bodies have been retrieved since Friday's 6.6-magnitude quake shook the ancient city of Bam and its surrounding region in southeast Iran, according to provincial government spokesman Asadollah Iranmanesh. At least 10,000 people were believed injured.

Two aftershocks early Monday terrified survivors and toppled some of the few walls still standing in this city, already turned into a moonscape of flattened houses. Later, Iran's president and supreme leader made their first visits here since the temblor, pledging to rebuild.

There were fears the number of dead could rise as high as 40,000 as Bam on Monday passed the critical mark of 72 hours after the quake, the longest period people are expected to survive in rubble.

Occasionally, people last longer if they are trapped in a pocket with air to breathe, though Bam's traditional architecture sharply limited that possibility. The city's mud-brick houses, constructed without supporting metal or wooden beams, crumbled into small chunks and powder-like dust.

``Many, many more people remain buried under the rubble,'' the government spokesman said.

International rescue teams joined Iranian crews in probing the wreckage, listening for tapping sounds from anyone trapped below and monitoring reactions of sniffer dogs. Some teams prepared to leave Tuesday, but others vowed to stay.

``It's never too late. We'll continue,'' said Terje Engevik, a member of the Norwegian search crew.

``There have been miracles in earthquakes before, in other cities, in other countries, and so we must continue searching,'' a spokesman for French rescuers, Eric Soupra, told France's RTL radio.

In a reward for such perseverance, an Iranian relief worker described how people approached him about a house that had not been searched. Using an electronic device, Shokrollah Abbasi and three colleagues found a girl _ unconscious and with a broken leg.

``The only reason she remained alive was because the roof had not totally collapsed,'' 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.''

The bodies of a woman and boy were found nearby. The girl, who appeared to be about 12, was taken to Bam's small airport to be flown to another city for hospital care.

``When we brought out the girl, everybody cried 'O God, this is magic!''' he said.

At the Bam cemetery, volunteers dug individual graves but the overwhelming number of bodies made it necessary to bury some victims in mass graves hollowed out by bulldozers.

In the haste and confusion, mistakes were made. A clergyman from the seminary town of Qom described how three times in the space of five hours Monday, he was reciting the final prayers for unidentified men wrapped in shrouds when their bodies moved.

The first time it happened, ``my friends were taking the body to place it in the grave,'' said Hojatoleslam Mojtaba Zonnor.

``Then they thought there was a movement. They called a doctor. After a brief examination, the doctor said, `He's not dead, he's alive.' And they took him out of the shroud and put him in an ambulance and took him away.''

Zonnor, one of about 500 clergymen from across Iran who came to help bury the dead, said the exact situation happened twice more.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Mohammad Khatami paid separate condolence visits Monday to Bam, formerly a city of 80,000 people surrounded by citrus groves and dotted with date palms.

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