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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 his face and fanned him with cardboard.

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

Rayee’s rescue was a rare example of joy across northeastern Iran, which was shattered by an earthquake Saturday that officials said killed at least 2,400 people. In Abiz, all of its 700 mud houses were destroyed and one-third of its 1,200 people were killed, villagers said.

More than 155 aftershocks rocked the area, forcing tens of thousands of people to camp in streets full of rubble. About 50,000 people were homeless and 6,000 people were injured by the magnitude 7.1 earthquake, said the Iranian Red Crescent.

Iranian state TV said late today that 4,000 people were killed or injured by Saturday’s quake and 200 villages were affected, with some villages totally destroyed. The differing casualty figures could not immediately be reconciled.

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 mountain area.

Iranian military aircraft _ U.S.-made C-130s and helicopters _ flew 80 tons of food, clothes and medicine to the region.

President Hashemi Rafsanjani cut short a trip to Turkmenistan today to visit the area hit by the earthquake, which struck less than two weeks before the May 23 presidential elections.

``There are some things that we can do,″ Rafsanjani said as he toured several stricken villages. ``But there are things that we cannot do, like compensate the lives of your relatives.″

Rafsanjani, who must step down this year, promised that his government would help rebuild homes and provide interest-free loans as well as grants to families.

As his motorcade drove through the devastation, thousands mobbed his car. Others chanted the traditional greeting, ``Khoshamadi,″ or ``welcome.″ At one point, Rafsanjani got out and hugged an old woman who lost her husband.

An aide to Rafsanjani, Jalil Besharati, promised $167 to each family who lost a relative, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake struck northwestern Iran today, but there were no casualties or damage, IRNA reported.

In most northeastern 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 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.

Villagers in Zohan, 60 miles southeast of Qaen, sat on dusty carpets at a mosque to pray for the dead today. They then set up tents and collected food and water for survivors.

Iranian officials estimated the damage at $67 million and appealed for international aid.

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. White House spokeswoman Mary Ellen Glynn said the United States would send any aid through an organization like the Red Cross.

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

``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 are subsistence farmers who either tend camels or sheep or grow wheat and saffron.

U.N. aid workers also visited remote western Afghanistan and said five people were killed by earthquakes there.

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

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