IRAN--At least 15,000 people have died in a severe earthquake that struck Iran Saturday night at 7:38 p.m. local time, demolishing 40 villages and badly damaging 60 others.
Rescue workers in Iran said yesterday they feared the official death toll would exceed 15,000 because they have not yet received reports from remote areas of the country, where thousands are believed buried under the rubble. Officials added many people may be trapped alive in the ruins.
The worst damage occurred in the ancient city of Tabas, where the earthquake registered the most severe tremors. Observers in Tabas said yesterday the city was completely flattened, as most of the city's buildings were completely destroyed in the warthquake.
The quake killed an estimated three-fourths of Tabas' 13,000 inhabitants. Most of the survivors were seriously injured, and many flew to Tehran for treatment.
The earthquake affected two-thirds of the country, shaking buildings as far away as those in the capital city of Tehran, 400 miles from the center of the earthquake.
The Iranian army sent 700 soldiers, four medical teams and many rescue workers to help house 1000 survivors in tents along Tabas' airport runway. Planes dispatched by the Iranian air force maintained an airlift of blankets, food, water, tents and medical supplies.
One eyewitness said yesterday of the damage, "Tabas has become a mound of rubble, bent iron beams and dirt."
The city, on the edge of the Iranian desert, is an agricultural center in a region which produces dates, grains, and oranges.
Iranian officials said yesterday the casualty rate may be very high because many people in the smaller villages go to bed earlier and were trapped in their homes when the earthquake struck.
New tremors continued to shake Iran yesterday, as many residents feared a second earthquake.
In addition to the damage inflicted on Tabas, Iranian officials said yesterday the earthquake destroyed at least 80 per cent of the town of Firdaus, about 100 miles east of Tabas. The officials could not estimate the death toll in Firdaus.
The earthquake also struck the towns of Isfahan, Kerman, Rafsanjan, and many other towns and villages near the Kaveer Desert.
The earthquake reached 7.7 on the Richter scale. The Richter scale is a measure of ground motion recorded on seismographs. Every increase of one number means a ten-fold increase in the magnitude of the earthquake.
Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi declared a three-day mourning period, and the government radio broadcast readings from the Koran.
The Shah and his wife, Empress Fara, appealed to Iranians to contribute to a relief fund. Tens of thousands of Iranians remain homeless after the earthquake, and government officials expressed concern that the severely cold nights and hot days would endanger the health of those remaining without shelter.
The earthquake comes shortly after another national disaster in Iran--a theater fire that killed hundreds of people. The fire set off rioting throughout Iran to protest the Shah's government.
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