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Russia Sends Rescue Teams to Help Iran Quake Effort - 2003-12-26

Two planes carrying Russian rescue teams are heading for Iran to assist earthquake relief efforts in the city of Bam in southeastern Iran. The quake struck early Friday, and Iranian officials say 20,000 people have died.

Within hours of the Iranian earthquake, Russia's emergency situations ministry said it was ready to send two planes to the earthquake zone. Four teams of about 70 people are now on their way to Iran, mostly medical personnel and rescue workers with experience in disaster relief operations. The planes are also carrying a large amount of medical supplies.

Russia is also sending trained sniffer dogs who've taken part in rescue operations in numerous disaster zones, including earthquakes in Turkey and Greece four years ago.

Separately, the United Nations said it, too, is sending experts to Iran to assess the damage caused by the earthquake in Bam and to coordinate international assistance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to Iranian President Mohamed Khatami soon after receiving word of the earthquake. Thousands of people have died in Friday's earthquake and more than half of the historic city has been destroyed.