BAM (Reuters)–A devastating earthquake struck the ancient Silk Road city of Bam in southeastern Iran on Friday–killing more than 15,000 people and injuring thousands of others–Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
Initial estimates suggested the earthquake measured 6.3 on the Richter scale–according to a statement made by Mohammad Ali Karimi–governor of the Kerman province where Bam is located–to the news agency.
Iranian television said about 70 percent of the buildings in the historic city–a popular tourist destination some 1,000 km (600 miles) southeast of the capital–Tehran–had collapsed and many people were feared trapped under the rubble.
Many houses had been flattened and squares were packed with crying children and people left without a home–huddled under blankets to protect them from the cold–witnesses told Reuters.
Distraught relatives wept next to corpses shrouded in blankets. Hundreds of bodies were bundled into trucks. Mechanized diggers hollowed out trenches where the dead were buried in haste–without rites. “I have lost all my family. My parents–my grandmother and two sisters are under the rubble,” said Maryam–17.
One old woman–disconsolate with grief–smeared her face with dirt–only able to utter: “My child–my child.”
Iranian television said around 30,000 people were injured in and around the city–which had a population of some 200,000 people. Angry people accused the government of doing nothing to help them and said they were still without tents–water and heating.
Witnesses said the road to Bam was choked with ambulances and people desperate to find family members.
State media said two of Bam’s hospitals had collapsed–crushing many of the staff–and remaining hospitals were full. The wounded were ferried to neighboring towns.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told Reuters Iran urgently sought sniffer dogs–blankets and medicines from the international community.
Russia and Germany were swift to offer help to try to find any survivors under the rubble of collapsed buildings. Other European nations have also said they are ready to act.
“You can be sure that we will do all we can in our powers to make available all necessary humanitarian assistance,” German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in a letter. Russia’s Emergencies Ministry–highly skilled in reacting to the country’s frequent natural and man-made disasters–has rapid response units of doctors–paramedics and dog-handlers–who can find trapped people. A large part of Bam’s ancient citadel–one of Iran’s best-loved tourist magnets–had been destroyed–Karimi said.
The citadel–dating back 2,000 years–contained fortifications–towers–buildings–stables and a mosque.
Bam was located on the old Silk Road route between China and Europe used by merchants and travelers for centuries–and contained inns–a gymnasium–a theological school and bazaars–according to tourism Web sites.
The quake struck at about 5:30 a.m. (0200 GMT) when most people in the city would probably have been asleep. The government mounted an immediate rescue operation in the date-growing area where houses are traditionally made of mud-brick.