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Rain, Heavy Snow Hamper Iran Rescue Effort

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies say rain and heavy snow are hampering efforts to rescue survivors of an earthquake near Zarand, Iran. Lisa Schlein reports from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva the agency puts preliminary estimates at more than 500 people dead and more than 1,000 injured.

The International Red Cross says major towns apparently have escaped serious damage, but dozens of villages have been partially or completely destroyed by the earthquake, which measured 6.4 on the Richter scale.

Spokesman Roy Probert says he expects the death toll to rise as search and rescue teams reach isolated mountain villages that currently are inaccessible.

"The likelihood is that there are bodies still lying under the rubble and, hopefully, survivors as well,” said Mr. Probert. “So, the rescue effort is continuing as well as the relief efforts to bring assistance to those people who survived, but who are left in a vulnerable state by the fact that they are homeless and by the fact that it is very cold and there is rain around as well. So, that is a priority to make sure that these people who are left vulnerable and homeless by the earthquake can be assisted as soon as possible."

The epicenter of the earthquake was near the town of Zarand, about 250 kilometers from the historic city of Bam. At the end of 2003, Bam was destroyed by a powerful earthquake, which killed about 30,000 people.

Mr. Probert says there have been a series of aftershocks since the earthquake struck early Tuesday. He says these tremors have caused panic among the people, especially in the town of Zarand. Despite the miserable weather conditions, he says many people are too afraid to stay in their homes and spend the night outdoors or in makeshift shelters.

"Of those villages that we mentioned that have been affected by this earthquake, six of them have been completely destroyed and about 40 villages have been 90 percent destroyed,” he added. “You can imagine that a lot of these homes are very basic and have been completely leveled. So, we are talking tens of thousands of people who are going to be homeless as a result of this earthquake."

The Iranian government has not appealed for international assistance. Mr. Probert says the Iranian Red Crescent Society has deployed teams from neighboring provinces to carry out rescue and relief efforts. He says the Iranian aid workers have distributed tents, blankets and food to the victims.