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Thousands Feared Dead in Iran Quake - 2003-12-26


A powerful earthquake struck southeastern Iran's historic city of Bam early today (Friday). Thousands of people are feared dead.

There are no official estimates of casualties from the quake that shook the popular tourist destination, located a thousand kilometers southeast of the Iranian capital, Tehran. However, Iranian officials say the death toll will be no lower than two-thousand, and expect it to rise.

The governor of Kerman province, where Bam is located, says the city suffered severe damage. He says the city's historic citadel, built largely of mud and bricks two-thousand years ago, was completely destroyed.

Many homes in the area were also built of bricks, clay and straw.

Iranian state television reports the quake toppled 60 percent of buildings in Bam, trapping many residents in the rubble.

Rescue teams, sent to the region, are looking for survivors and trying to restore telephone communications cut by the quake.

The remote region around Bam, not far from Iran's border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, is sparsely populated. Strong aftershocks have been shaking the area after the initial quake.

Local officials said today's quake measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, but the U.S. Geological Survey placed the magnitude higher, at 6.7. The earthquake struck just before 5:30 local time (two hours UT), when most people were asleep.

Earthquakes occur frequently in Iran, which is crossed by several major fault lines.

About 230 people died and a thousand more were injured by a quake that struck northern Iran in June of last year. An estimated 35,000 people were killed in 1990, when strong quakes hit the country's northwest.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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