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On a residential street in Baravat, 5 kilometres south of Bam, Zolaikha Baniagardy stoops by the Iranian Red Crescent water tanker. The elderly woman’s voice shakes as she recounts what happened at 5:28 a.m. on 26 December 2003. “I was saying my morning prayers when I heard this loud sound like an airplane and the earth began to shake,” says Zolaikha, as she dries her tears with the corner of her chador. “The only thing I could do was run outside, leaving my entire family to die in our house. Who will look after me now that I have no one left?”

Zolaikha is but one of the thousands of victims of the earthquake that struck the city of Bam in the province of Kerman in south-eastern Iran. It was Iran’s deadliest earthquake in recorded history, killing more than 41,000 people, injuring 30,000, leaving more than 75,000 people homeless and 85 per cent of the homes destroyed. Livelihoods for most residents have been lost with the destruction of the city’s tourist attraction—the 2,000 year-old Arg E Bam citadel and the damage of 25 out of 64 quanats—part of an ancient system of irrigation canals providing water to the date palm farms and orange groves.

Providing Search and Rescue and Relief Virtually all the dwellings in the ancient desert city were built with layers of mud bricks that crumbled instantly upon people as they slept in their beds. Within two hours of the disaster, local Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) search and rescue teams were mobilized. Their colleagues from other parts of the country and international teams quickly joined them. The IRCS teams pulled more than a thousand survivors from the rubble.

Many of the injured were evacuated in IRCS helicopters from the quake-stricken region to Tehran, Shiraz and other cities in Kerman.

IRCS volunteers also helped with the task of burying the tens of thousands of dead in mass graves — preventing the outbreak of disease. The victims’ photos were taken to help their family members identify them.

As the leader in the operation, the IRCS volunteers and staff coordinated all relief assistance – mobilizing more than 12,400 medical staff that treated some 42,500 patients, and distributing hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets, heaters and food to more than 40,000 families. The city of Bam was divided into 12 zones, with a separate IRCS provincial team working as a unit in each zone.

Two hours after the earthquake, search-and-rescue teams from the Iranian Red Crescent were pulling survivors from the rubble. They rescued more than a thousand people.
©Farooq Burney / International Federation

An Iranian Red Crescent rescue worker searching through the ruins. The wearing of masks
was necessary to protect against the spread of diseases, and the inhalation of dirt and ash.

©Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov, Courtesy

A woman grieves as her family is buried in one of the many mass graves for the 41,000 people killed in Bam.
©Michael Walter / Troika

A young boy waiting to be treated at the Saudi Arabian Red Crescent hospital.
About 2,000 patients visited the hospital before it closed.

©Christopher Black / International Federation

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