IMAGE: Iran quake survivor
Raheb Homavandi  /  Reuters
A survivor of Tuesday's quake walks past destroyed homes in the remote mountain village of Houdkan, 20 miles from the town of Zarand, on Wednesday.
updated 2/24/2005 12:24:53 AM ET 2005-02-24T05:24:53

An 18-year-old earthquake survivor pulled Wednesday from the ruins of this shattered Iranian hamlet stared at the piles of rubble and burst into tears.

“This is not my village,” cried Zehra Mirzaei. “I wish I had died with the others!”

Nearby crushed, mud brick houses yielded only lifeless bodies, raising the death toll from Tuesday’s magnitude-6.4 quake to 500. Officials expected it to rise as rescue teams with dogs and heavy equipment cleared away debris.

After a miserable night and day spent homeless in the cold and rain of the mountainous region, survivors in Hotkan and other devastated villages got a morale boost: two truckloads of dates sent from Bam, the nearby city flattened by a December 2003 earthquake that killed 26,000 people.

“Our people know what a catastrophe an earthquake is because they tasted it themselves more than a year ago,” said Abbas Esmaeili, head of Bam’s municipal council.

Rain and snow continued to fall in the region, about 600 miles southeast of the capital, Tehran. In the drizzle and mist, workers in Hotkan carried blanket-wrapped corpses across a landscape of mud littered with belongings and wood shards.

“Even sky is crying for Hotkan,” said Rokhsareh Sefatzadeh, beating her chest in grief.

She lost her husband and her four children in the quake. At least 150 of the central Iranian village’s 1,800 residents were killed.

The death toll was likely to increase, said Mohammad Javad Fadaei, deputy governor of Kerman province, who added that at least 900 people were injured.

Still, some survivors were found buried under the ruins of their homes more than a day after the quake struck.

Hours after Mirzaei’s rescue, shouts of “God is great!” echoed as a team pulled another girl from the rubble elsewhere in Hotkan. Looking confused, 14-year-old Zehra Hosseini broke into tears after she emerged.

“Where are my father and mother, brother and sister? They must be alive,” she shouted.

The rescuers told her they did not find any other survivors in the same area, but she did not appear to hear them.

Some 40 villages were affected by the quake, and many of the area’s population of 30,000 were left homeless.

So far, the Iranian government has not asked directly for international help. Still, the Japanese government said it would send blankets, tents and other aid worth $191,400 to aid quake victims.

“It has been raining and gotten cold there and many houses collapsed,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said. “We would like to monitor the situation and talk further with the Iranian government.”

President Bush also expressed his condolences.

“The United States stands ready to assist the people of Iran in responding to this tragedy, and we will be in contact with the government of Iran to offer concrete help,” a White House statement said.

Iran’s Islamic government shuns contacts with the United States, though it did accept U.S. aid as part of the huge international relief effort that followed the Bam earthquake.

The quake-affected region lies about 150 miles from Bam. Though comparable in strength to Bam’s magnitude-6.6 quake, Tuesday’s quake hit a more sparsely populated area and was centered far deeper, limiting the damage.

Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. It experiences at least one slight earthquake everyday on average.

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