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Man rescued after 27 hours in rubble of Iranian quake

May 12, 1997

ABIZ, Iran (AP) _ On the foothills of the Shaskooh Mountain, hundreds of villagers, many covered in dirt and blood, gathered around rubble where an old man said he heard a cry for help.

They dug frantically for an hour, only to find a chicken that had somehow survived. Then they dragged out a mangled corpse to the wails of relatives who beat their chests and pulled their hair.

Suddenly they heard something _ a desperate cry.

Alireza Rayee, 32, was pulled from the rubble barely conscious Sunday, trapped for 27 hours. A man rushed to bring him water. Another wiped dirt from Rayee’s face and fanned him with cardboard.

``God has given my son a second life!″ shouted his mother, Fatemeh, crying and holding her son’s head in her arms.

Rayee’s rescue was a rare example of joy across a landscape shattered by an earthquake Saturday that killed at least 2,400 people in northeastern Iran. In Abiz, none of the 700 mud houses were standing. One-third of its 1,200 people were killed.

A huge relief effort was under way in the 60-mile stretch between Birjand and Qaen, a region dotted by poor villages and mud huts near the Afghan border. Convoys of buses, trucks and pickups rushed hundreds of volunteers over narrow dirt roads to the remote mountains.

Iranian military aircraft _ U.S.-made C-130s and helicopters _ flew food, clothes and medicine to the stricken region.

More than 155 aftershocks shook what was left standing, forcing tens of thousands of people to camp amid the rubble in the dusty streets of villages. About 50,000 people were homeless and at least 6,000 people were injured by the magnitude-7.1 earthquake.

In most villages, the streets had been transformed into rows of rubble. Survivors washed the bodies of their loved ones and buried them in mass graves.

Volunteers handed out aid or dug through the collapsed structures with their bare hands to look for bodies.

In Abiz, a poor village about 55 miles east of Qaen, Rayee said he thought he would die beneath the rubble.

``But I prayed all the time that I was under there, and God answered my prayers,″ he said, grimacing from a broken shoulder.

His rescue was matched with tragedy elsewhere. In another village, an elementary school collapsed, killing 110 girls who were buried under jagged slabs of concrete and steel.

Iranian officials estimated the damage at $67 million and appealed for international aid, which had not arrived in the region by this morning, said Bijan Daftari, deputy chief of the Iranian Red Crescent in Qaen.

From Tokyo, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged other countries ``to respond promptly and with generosity.″

France sent a cargo plane carrying 39 tons of blankets, tents, clothes and food Sunday. Switzerland sent a rescue team and trained dogs to help search for survivors.

In Washington, presidential spokeswoman Mary Ellen Glynn said the United States customarily would send any aid through an organization like the Red Cross. ``If it’s necessary, we would certainly contribute,″ she said.

The Iranian Red Crescent sent 9,000 tents, more than 18,000 blankets and canned food, rice and dates.

Iran also rushed at least 80 tons of aid to the region aboard four U.S.-made C-130 planes and six helicopters, presumably to the provincial capital of Mashhad. From there, it is still a five-hour drive over rough terrain to the villages.

``Much needs to be done. The priority is to remove the dead bodies and bury them as soon as possible,″ said Reza Alavi, a civil servant leading relief efforts in one of the villages.

Most of the villagers in the region are subsistence farmers who either tend camels or sheep or grow wheat and saffron.

The quake was the strongest to strike Iran since June 21, 1990, when magnitude 7.3 and 7.7 tremors hit the northwestern part of the country, killing 50,000 people and injuring 60,000.

The Islamic Republic News Agency said there was also considerable damage in neighboring Afghanistan.

In the Afghan capital of Kabul, international aid workers said at least four teams had set out to assess the wreckage in remote western Afghanistan. The workers, who spoke on condition they not be identified, knew of only five fatalities so far.

``There seems only to be small-scale damage,″ said Sarah Russell, U.N. information officer in neighboring Pakistan.

Update hourly