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Iran: Death Toll In Earthquake Expected To Exceed 20,000

Prague, 28 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian Interior Minister Mussavi Lari says the death toll in the Bam earthquake in southeastern Iran is expected to exceed 20,000. Lari said today that 15,000 bodies had already been buried and more fatalities were feared, with the final death toll expected to exceed 20,000 in Friday's (26 December) quake.

At least 1,000 more people were recovered alive during the early hours of today amid continuing frantic rescue efforts at the site. Officials say chances are running out for finding further survivors.

A relief helicopter belonging to the Iranian Air Force crashed today near Bam killing three people.

In the meantime, 45 planes from abroad have landed in Kerman Province and their humanitarian cargo transferred to Bam. More rescue teams with sniffer dogs have also arrived at the quake site.

Some 400 foreign experts were meanwhile reported to have joined rescue efforts in Bam, where thousands of survivors spent a second night sleeping in the open or in their cars.

More than three-quarters of Bam, a community of 90,000 renowned for its ancient citadel, was flattened by the quake, which measured 6.7 on the Richter scale.