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Rescuers Search for Survivors after 20,000 Die in Iran Earthquake - 2003-12-28

Iran's Interior Ministry says the death toll from Friday's earthquake in southeastern Iran has climbed to more than 20,000. According to the ministry, another 30,000 people were injured. Rescuers from around the world are in Iran frantically searching for possible survivors of the deadly temblor.

With the help of sniffer dogs, rescue efforts continued for a third day in the earthquake-devastated Iranian city of Bam.

The ancient city was all but destroyed Friday morning following a temblor that U.S. scientists say had a magnitude of 6.5 on the Richter scale. Iranian officials say 70 percent of the city's buildings were flattened.

Iran's state-run news media say 2,000 victims were rescued Saturday and Sunday, after being pulled from beneath rubble and debris.

The local airport in Bam has been converted into a makeshift emergency medical facility.

Rescuers from numerous countries are in Iran aiding in the search for possible survivors. And according to the coordinator for the International Red Cross, Knut Kaspersen, who is in Iran, a massive international effort is under way to aid the stricken community.

"Supplies are coming from all the major European countries, from countries neighboring Iran. And we know that efforts in the United States from the Red Cross, and Canadian Red Cross to collect money have started," said Mr. Kaspersen. "We are sending in now a coordination team that will try to coordinate the international effort, together with the Iranian Red Crescent. And we are awaiting further requests for needs that may arise."

Iran's Interior Ministry says thousands of bodies have been recovered. Health officials say bodies must be quickly removed to help prevent epidemics. Local cemeteries are already reported overflowing with fully clothed corpses.

Iran's state-run television has been showing scenes of the flattened city, which contains centuries-old buildings and a historic citadel that is now all but destroyed.

Men, women and children are seen crying as they lay next to the blanket-wrapped corpses of their loved ones.

Thousands have been left homeless in the area where electricity, water and communication lines have been cut.

At night, in near-freezing temperatures, people are huddling in tents and in front of fires made from cardboard, trying to stay warm.

The level of devastation is so enormous that Iranian officials have acknowledged the country is not capable of handling the situation on its own and are asking for international help, following what is surely one of Iran's deadliest natural disasters.