U.S. Team Joins Iran Quake Effort

Earthquake survivoirs gather around a fire in front of their tents in devastated city of Bam, Iran, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2003. An earthquake Friday reduced the town of Bam to rubble killing more than 25,000 people.
AP
Aid workers from the United States and around the world rushed tons of blankets, medicines and generators to Iran's earthquake survivors Wednesday, scrambling to prevent an outbreak of disease caused by dirty drinking water and cold weather.

A team of 80 U.S. medical specialists set up a field hospital in the devastated ancient city of Bam. At least 12,000 people from the southeastern Iran city were injured in Friday's devastating 6.6-magnitude quake that left at least 28,000 dead.

As the Americans set up, they received a welcome from Iranians they could never have expected just a short time ago, reports CBS News Correspondent Lisa Barron. There were bouquets of red roses, bags of chocolates and pistachios and even a New Year's greeting card from Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

The U.S. team of 60 doctors and 20 logistical experts joins aid teams from more than 20 countries struggling to improve the harsh living conditions for tens of thousands left homeless by the magnitude-6.6 earthquake.

"One of the things we learned is how to make things go fast," said Dr. Susan Briggs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "It was a very hazardous area much like this."

The group also includes a team of structural engineers and communications experts from the Fairfax County, Va., Fire Department, reports CBS News Early Show Correspondent Thalia Assuras.

A top priority in the days ahead is to prevent the outbreak of typhoid or cholera — though there have been no reports of epidemics yet, said Marty Bahamonde, a spokesman for the U.S. delegation.

Bill Garvelink, the U.S. Agency for International Development official leading the team, met with several Iranian ministers after the team arrived Tuesday in what he said was probably the first official meetings between American and Iranian officials since Washington cut diplomatic links after the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.

"We don't focus on political issues," Garvelink said. President Mohammad Khatami thanked Washington on Tuesday but stressed that the aid did nothing to change frosty political ties.

"I think that the bridging of this gap people-to-people is an important thing and, I think, particularly in a time of crisis," Briggs told Assuras.

However in a reflection of the political sensitivity of the U.S. presence in Iran, there is no plan to raise an American flag over the team's camp — though other foreign aid teams display a national flag, said Bahamonde.

Iranian health officials said they had all but given up hope of finding survivors buried under the rubble and focused on determining the medical and health needs of the city's remaining population, said Mohammad Nickam, a top Health Ministry official.

"There's no hope of finding people alive," Nickam said. The ministry has divided the city into 10 zones, each of which is under surveillance by health officials that were called in from neighboring provinces.

Meanwhile, aid continued to pour in from around the world.

An Australian air force plane carrying blankets, water purification tablets, and heaters unloaded the supplies in the provincial capital of Kerman, 120 miles northwest of Bam, according to an Australian defense official. The aid will be distributed by the Red Cross and Red Crescent aid groups.

China pledged $1.2 million in additional aid, doubling an earlier contribution of tents, generators and other supplies worth $600,000, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on its Web site Tuesday.

Friday's earthquake struck before sunrise, entombing thousands of sleeping residents in their homes. The city's mud-brick houses, constructed without supporting metal or wooden beams, crumbled into small chunks and powdery dust.

Bam's 2,000 year-old citadel, the world's largest medieval mud fortress, was largely destroyed by the quake. The tallest section, including a distinctive square tower, crumbled like a sand castle.

Khatami said Tuesday a committee of foreign experts would determine how best to go about rebuilding the citadel.

"We will rebuild the Bam citadel as the symbol of some 3,000 years of history in this part of Iran," said Khatami, adding that the U.N. cultural agency, UNESCO, had offered to help. UNESCO had considered declaring the citadel a protected World Heritage Site.

Bam's cemetery has nearly doubled in size in five days, reports Assuras. There is not even time to identify the bodies before they are lowered into mass graves. Family members wander along the fresh mounds of dirt searching for loved ones.