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Iran Quake Victims Revised to 220

June 23, 2002

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ABDAREH, Iran (AP) _ Mournful wails echoed from a hilltop cemetery where dazed survivors gathered at dawn Sunday to bury victims of an earthquake that flattened villages in northwestern Iran, killing at least 220 people.

State-run Iranian media lowered the death toll in the remote quake zone from earlier estimates of 500 or more. An official from Iran’s Red Crescent relief organization told state-run radio that earlier reports of the number of casualties were wrong.

The official, identified only by his last name, Sahraie, said there was no figure for the number of injured in Saturday’s quake, but the radio, citing other Red Crescent officials, said at least 1,000 people were injured.

Official Iranian media had reported Saturday that more than 1,600 people were injured.

The epicenter of the magnitude-6 quake, which left thousands homeless, was in the town of Bou’in-Zahra in Qazvin province, Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The quake struck at 7:30 a.m., when most people were still in their homes of brick, stone and mud.

Among the hardest-hit places was the tiny village of Abdareh, about 140 miles west of Tehran. The quake toppled its mosque, demolished 40 homes and killed at least 20 people.

At a cemetery overlooking Abdareh, survivors huddled in groups, most covered in dust and dazed with grief. Men, women and children wailed as they placed the dead in rows of graves carved in the earth by bulldozers.

``There is nothing left to live for,″ cried Majid Torabi, 16, who lay his head in the dirt beside the freshly dug graves of his parents.

``One moment they were alive and with me, and the next moment the ground shook and everything got dark. I don’t know what to do anymore″ Torabi said, beating his head and chest in grief.

About 45 families live in Abdareh, a village surrounded by hills and orchards. A bulldozer driver, his face obscured by dust, said he had retrieved at least 10 bodies from the rubble.

Desert and hills mark the terrain around Qazvin. The area, inhabited by tens of thousands of people, is rural but is home to many small factories and businesses producing goods ranging from plastics to medicine and food.

Overnight, survivors lit small fires amid the rubble of villages to warm themselves as temperatures fell to 44 degrees.

Near Abdareh in the village of Changooreh, where at least one person in nearly all of the 100 homes was killed, rescue workers with sniffer dogs continued to unearth bodies from the rubble.

A cry of ``Allahu Akbar″ _ God is great _ rose from a small crowd of rescue workers and villagers digging for bodies as the body of a woman _ still clutching her 10-year-old daughter’s corpse _ were found beneath the rubble.

Nearby, 20-year-old Hassan Mohammad Aliha sat on the rubble that was his home, beating his head and screaming in mourning for his mother. His sister, who had been away from the village when the quake struck, sat next to him, too dazed to speak.

The Iranian Red Crescent Society said nearly 100 villages were badly damaged or destroyed.

The quake hit the provinces of Gilan, Tehran, Kurdestan, Qazvin, Zanjan and Hamedan and was followed by several aftershocks, the state news agency said. It was felt in the city of Tehran _ Iran’s capital _ but there were no reports of damage there.

About 40 of the 280 inhabitants of Garm Darreh village in western Hamedan province were killed, and about 80 were killed in the Qazvin area village of Kisse-Jin, according to official reports.

Major earthquakes are not uncommon in Iran, which lies on a major seismic line. Moderate tremors are reported in various parts of the country almost daily.

In May 1997, a magnitude-7.1 quake killed 1,500 people in the country’s north. In February of that year, 72 people died in a quake in the northeast.

In June 1990, a quake measuring between 7.3 and 7.7 killed at least 40,000 people, and a 1963 quake in the Qazvin area killed 12,225 people.

The Iranian government declared three days of mourning in the quake-struck provinces and set up a bank account for public donations.

President Bush offered condolences Saturday to ``the families of the many victims in the cities and villages affected by this tragic event.″

``Human suffering knows no political boundaries,″ Bush said in a statement. ``We stand ready to assist the people of Iran as needed and as desired.″

In January, Bush labeled Iran part of an ``axis of evil″ countries that the United States says support terrorism or seek to develop weapons of mass destruction.

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