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New Year Comes With Aftershocks, Cold, Sorrow for Remaining Bam Residents - 2004-01-01

Bitter cold, howling winds and aftershocks rang in the new year for the tens of thousands of residents made homeless by the devastating earthquake in southeastern Iran. A memorial service will be held Thursday for the estimated 30,000 people killed in the deadly quake.

For tens of thousands of residents made homeless by last Friday's deadly earthquake in the southeastern Iranian city of Bam, the new year began with a series of aftershocks.

U.N. officials say less than half of the original population of 103,000 was left in Bam. The remainder were either dead, in hospitals, missing or had left town.

For those who have remained, most are huddling in tents and in front of fires trying to stay warm in freezing temperatures as they contemplate their futures and deal with the emotional toll caused by the enormity of the disaster.

U.N. workers have said about 90 percent of Bam's buildings were either destroyed or damaged by Friday's temblor.

Thursday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was scheduled to hold a memorial service in Bam for those killed in the deadly quake. At least 30,000 people lost their lives when the ancient city was flattened by the temblor.

On New Year's eve, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi thanked and praised the estimated 1,700 foreign aid workers who rushed to the flattened city from 60 countries. Mr. Kharrazi said Iran would never forget their efforts which he said proved that despite terrorism and violence, the jewel of humanity still exists.

Among the aid workers is a medical team of 80 U.S. doctors, nurses and paramedics who have set up a field hospital in the center of Bam.

American doctors were quoted as saying they have been warmly welcomed by Iranian citizens.

The United States broke ties with Iran following the 1979 Islamic revolution. However, U.S. officials have announced that banking restrictions on Iran were being temporarily suspended to help speed the flow of humanitarian assistance to the quake damaged city.