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Doctors: death toll in the thousands from quake in northwestern Iran

March 1, 1997

NIR, Iran (AP) _ Rescue teams fought snow, high winds and wild dogs Saturday as they tried to bring help to an earthquake-devastated region in northwest Iran. Doctors and aid workers said the death toll was in the thousands.

The quake rocked mountainous Ardabil province Friday afternoon, damaging 83 villages _ some were razed _ and injuring about 2,000 people, state-run Tehran radio reported.

It said the official death toll had risen to 500, but rescue and aid workers estimated at least 3,000 people had died.

The Iranian quake was one of a number that have jolted Asian countries over the last couple of days, including temblors in Armenia, China and Pakistan. Scientists said there was no evidence that any of them were connected.

In Iran, rescue teams bearing tents and emergency food for the stricken villages, located on the edge of the Talish Mountains, 365 miles northwest of the capital, Tehran, were slowed by snowstorms, whipping winds and landslides.

Some rescuers also had to face wild dogs and wolves, which were tearing into the corpses in the village of Golestan, where at least 80 people died.

An aid worker there said he heard a cry for help from a pile of rubble but wild dogs surrounding the spot kept him from getting any nearer.

In Nir, 25 miles southwest of the provincial capital of Ardabil, security officers watched over a sports center where 13 bodies lay wrapped in blankets on a basketball court, the floor stained red with dried blood.

``There were hundreds of bodies here last night,″ said Ali Rahimpour, one of the guards. ``There were so many corpses that we had to leave many of them outside.″

There was nothing but rubble left of several communities around Nir.

Doctors at Nir’s Fatemi Hospital said the death toll in the region was in the thousands. A teacher in the nearby town of Sarain said he counted 2,000 dead taken to the cemetery in Ardabil.

In the village of Villadareh, among the hardest hit, residents beat their chests in grief as volunteers pulled the bodies of four children from mounds of rubble. A toddler still clung to a small toy car.

Iran estimated the quake’s magnitude at 5.5. The U.S. National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., said it was 6.1.

A more powerful quake struck western Pakistan on Friday, killing at least 100 people. Pakistan and Iran are hit by numerous quakes each year.

In the remote corner of western Pakistan _ 1,200 miles southeast of the Iranian quake site _ some of the injured began arriving Saturday in Quetta, the nearest big city, about 400 miles southwest of Islamabad. Stretchers lined hospital corridors and doctors made an appeal for blood donations.

Rescuers said more than 100 people were killed and dozens injured when the magnitude-7.3 quake shook Baluchistan province early Friday _ the hardest hit region was the remote Sibi district.

Rescue workers were hampered by the remoteness of the area and damage to roads leading to the region.

The worst earthquake in the Baluchistan area occurred in 1935, killing 30,000 people. The deadliest recent quake in Iran killed about 50,000 in 1990.

Other areas in the region also were rocked by quakes Saturday, including far western China, where two people were killed and at least three injured, state seismologists said. The magnitude-6 quake struck at 2:04 p.m. in Jiashi County in the Xinjiang region, about 2,000 miles west of Beijing.

In Armenia, an earthquake struck near the capital, Yerevan, but there were no reports of damage or injuries. And Japan was hit by a moderate earthquake centered 20 miles off the coast, not far from Tokyo.

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