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Hope of Finding Iran Quake Survivors Dwindles - 2003-12-29

While the humanitarian effort in the earthquake-devastated Iranian city of Bam intensifies, rescuers say hopes of finding more survivors are dwindling. The estimated death toll has risen to 22,000 people, and that figure could climb.

The massive effort to find survivors from Friday's deadly earthquake in southeastern Iran is beginning to slowly wind down, with officials saying there is little hope of finding additional survivors.

Rescue teams from numerous countries have been aiding Iran in the search for people who may still be buried in the debris. Iranian officials said more than 2,000 people had been rescued Saturday and Sunday.

However, efforts are now intensifying to find food and shelter for the thousands of families made homeless by the destruction. Burying the thousands of victims is also an urgent priority, to prevent health epidemics.

Monday, hundreds of mechanical diggers arrived in the flattened city to begin the process of clearing away the debris.

With nighttime temperatures dipping to near freezing, many people have been gathering in tents and in front of fires made from cardboard, trying to stay warm.

Widespread looting has reportedly been hampering humanitarian efforts in Bam. In response, Iranian security forces Monday began sealing off the city, which was all but, destroyed by the earthquake that U.S. scientists say measured 6.6 on the Richter scale.

Only relief workers and vehicles carrying supplies are being allowed to enter the city.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, arrived in Bam Monday to inspect the damage. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is also scheduled to tour the city Monday and meet with aid workers.

In the meantime, the first U.S. flight to Iran since the Iranian hostage crisis ended in 1981 arrived in the Islamic republic carrying humanitarian supplies. More U.S. flights to Iran are scheduled.