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Soviets Halve Death Estimate in Armenian Quake

December 29, 1988

MOSCOW (AP) _ Soviet officials indicated today that the final death toll from the Armenian earthquake will be about half the previous estimate of 55,000 people.

Yuri Chaplygin, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, the Soviet Cabinet, told reporters that 24,854 people were confirmed dead as of Wednesday.

Two deputy Armenian premiers, Yuri Hojamiryan and Vardges Artsruny, estimated that only about 100 more bodies remain buried under the rubble of the Dec. 7 earthquake that devastated northwestern Armenia. Other officials said the work would continue until all the bodies are recovered.

″The number is decreasing with each passing day,″ Hojamiryan said in Yerevan, the Armenia capital, during a news conference televised for Moscow- based reporters. ″As of today, we still do not have a final number for the dead. We do think that around 100-150 bodies are still to be extracted from the rubble.″

Estimates of the death toll from the Armenian earthquake have varied widely. Initially, Soviet officials estimated 40,000-45,000 died. On Dec. 13 Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov gave a figure of 55,000.

Hojamiryan said confusion accounted for the inaccurate initial estimates.

″When the earthquake had just taken place, there was an impression that there were more victims. That’s why at first we cited the figure of 40,000-45,000,″ he said.

After repeated questioning by reporters about discrepancies in the death toll, the Armenian officials repeated the figures they had given for the number of bodies recovered and those remaining in the rubble.

″We expect maybe 100, 120 additional dead people (will be found) in the buildings that have not been cleared yet,″ said Artsruny, a deputy premier in charge of construction. ″This is a very big number of victims. We are not exaggerating or underestimating. We are treating these figures very seriously.″

Eduard Aykazyan, the Armenian government’s representative in Moscow, told reporters that early death toll were based on the percentage of buildings destroyed by the quake.

Soviet officials have said poor communications and transport in the devastated area, where at least 700,000 people lived, made the task of counting the dead difficult.

In addition, the precise population of the region was not clear because thousands of refugees from ethnic violence in Azerbaijan had arrived recently.

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