Iranian Rescuers Find Quake Survivors

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.

``All of us are responsible to meet the demands of the survivors,'' Khamenei told people in the streets. ``Aid should continue to come so that, God willing, the city of Bam is rebuilt better and this time stronger than before. We can build a strong and developed city out of this devastation.''

Khatami appealed for international help, saying relief provided by Iran's government and its people was not enough.

Already, said 1,400 international relief workers from 26 countries had converged in Bam, said Ted Pearn, coordinator of U.N. relief operations.

Dozens of relief planes have landed in Bam and in Kerman, the provincial capital 120 miles to the northwest _ including eight U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo planes. The American help came despite long-severed diplomatic relations and President Bush's naming of Iran as part of an ``axis of evil'' with Iraq and North Korea.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Iran's U.N. ambassador Saturday that the earthquake was a humanitarian tragedy that transcended political consideration, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Monday.

On Tuesday, an Indian air force plane carrying doctors who will set up a 75-bed hospital headed to Iran, the Indian foreign ministry.

Still, many survivors were frustrated by the wait for aid.

``Our relatives are dead, the injured have been transferred, we are alive and we need money, not medicines or clothes,'' said Tehereh Arjoumandi, surrounded by relatives in front a green gate and a dust-covered refrigerator _, all that was left of her home.

Arjoumandi, 30, said her mother, sister, brother-in-law and 13-year-old nephew died in the quake.


Associated Press reporters Matthew Pennington and Alessandra Rizzo in Bam contributed to this report.

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