Villagers recover 100 bodies after earthquake turns homes into mud

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In the mountainside village of Houdkan, the devastation is overwhelming.

In the mountainside village of Houdkan, the devastation is overwhelming.

The village is the scene of some of the worst destruction from Tuesday morning's earthquake in central Iran, which killed up to 500 people. The village used to hug a steep hillside high up in the mountains north of Kerman. But when the quake struck, this traditional adobe settlement was turned into a morass of mud and rubble.

Corpses are still being recovered across the earthquake area. The Iranian Interior Minister, Abdolvahed Mussavi Lari, said the death toll from the quake, with a magnitude of 6.4, is likely to reach 550. "Fifty villages are badly damaged, four or five of which are destroyed," he said during a tour of the area.

In Houdkan it is unclear how many of the villagers died in the disaster, but many of those still unaccounted for hailed from this community. So far, more than 100 bodies have been wrested from the red earth.

Fatemeh Mansouri, an elderly woman wearing a black patterned headscarf, said: "I managed to get my son out of the house but my young daughter was trapped inside by her legs. I knew where she was and so I lifted the rubble off her." Another daughter was killed. As Mrs Mansouri speaks, her son puts up a tent. She stands forlornly in the road pointing at the crumbled remains of her house, shouting: "God, God, God!"

Thick mist creeps through the village, lending a ghostly quality to the battered shapes that poke above the mud. Poor weather has hampered the rescue effort, cutting visibility to 50 metres and soaking the ground. Houdkan was the most inaccessible of the villages hit and it suffered the worst damage. The road into the village was blocked by landslides in several places. In its later stages, it is nothing but a mud track.

Four-wheel drive pick-up trucks take rescuers ­ mostly soldiers or members of the Iranian Red Crescent Society ­ into the village. At the top of the hill workers load bodies into pick-up trucks for burial in Zarand, the nearest town of any size.

A small body on a stretcher is laid next to others. An old man identifies it and a larger body next to it. A worker takes a pen and writes the name Hossein Golestani on a blackened leg.