Rafsanjani tours Iran quake zone

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The Independent Online
Qayen, Iran - The Iranian president interrupted a foreign visit yesterday to inspect devastation caused by the huge earthquake which killed about 2,400 people at the weekend.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani flew to Birjand, one of two regions in eastern Iran rocked by Saturday's quake, from neighbouring Turkmenistan.

He visited villages in the area at the Afghan border before heading to Qayen, near the epicentre of the earthquake which levelled some 200 villages and injured some 6,000 people.

Survivors of the quake were still scrambling among the ruins of their homes and burying their dead yesterday while waiting for international aid in response to an appeal by the Iranian government.

An Iranian Red Crescent spokesman said rescue workers would comb the quake-stricken areas one more time for survivors and bodies before winding up their operations.

In the rubble of the villages hit hardest, men, women and children wept and wailed and picked through the debris of their mud-brick homes searching for something to salvage. The government said it would pay 500,000 rials (pounds 103) to every person who lost a relative, the Iranian news agency said.

A new quake hit north-west Iran yesterday, but there were no casualties or damage, the news agency said. About 1,000 people were killed there by a quake in February.

Quake-prone Iran, accustomed to dealing with natural disasters, appealed through the United Nations for international aid. Iran's Gulf Arab neighbours Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates said they were flying in aid. So did Egypt.

Clare Short, Britain's new Secretary of State for International Development, yesterday announced a pounds 100,000 initial disaster contribution. She said the money would go to the Red Crescent, the Iranian arm of the Red Cross. A Scottish-based rescue group, the International Rescue Corps, which specialises in rescuing trapped people, said its offer of help to Iran has been turned down.

The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, said that Bonn would not let a diplomatic row with Iran get in the way of helping the country's earthquake victims and pledged 500,000 German marks (pounds 183,000) in relief.