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20,000 killed in Iran quake

Bam, Dec. 26 (Reuters): A pre-dawn earthquake killed more than 20,000 people in Iran’s ancient Silk Road city of Bam today, officials said.

About 70 per cent of the buildings in the historic city, a popular tourist spot some 1,000 km southeast of the capital, Tehran, had collapsed and many people were feared trapped under the rubble.

Bam was without water, electricity or gas; and as night fell temperatures headed below freezing. Residents set fires to stay warm and made torches from palm branches for light as they dug with bare hands for survivors.

Bawling infants and dazed adults gathered in city squares, huddling against the cold under woollen blankets. Rubble-strewn pavements were lined with injured, some on intravenous drips.

State media said two hospitals had collapsed, crushing many of the staff, and the remaining hospitals were full.

Ali Shafiee, the governor of Bam, told state TV: “The city of Bam must be built from scratch.”

Officials said around 50,000 people were injured in and around the city, which, with its environs, 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 and water. Houses in the date-growing area of Bam are made from mud-brick, making them vulnerable to earthquakes.

A large part of Bam’s ancient citadel was destroyed, Karimi said. Dating back 2,000 years, it held fortifications, towers, stables and a mosque.

Bam is located on the old Silk Road route between China and Europe used by merchants and travellers for centuries. A major tourist magnet, it had inns, a gymnasium, a theological school and bazaars.

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