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Iran quake aid effort winds down

<font size="1">The international response to the earthquake in Iran winds down as the last foreign rescue team leaves and the American medical team sees their last patient. </font></p>
/ Source: The Associated Press

The emergency response to the most devastating earthquake to hit Iran in a decade wound down Monday as the final foreign rescue team left and a U.S. field hospital treated its last patient.

A flight took off from Bam airport carrying Turkish rescue workers — one of 24 foreign teams that rushed here after the 6.6-magnitude quake killed more than 30,000 people and injured as many.

The U.S. field hospital, which treated more than 720 patients in four days, closed on Monday morning. The American hospital is one of six field hospitals in Bam. Most will be phased out in the weeks ahead as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent opens a larger facility.

“Our mission is accomplished. We are going home,” said Marty Bahamonde, spokesman for the U.S. relief team. He said U.S. medics conducted eight operations and delivered six babies — the last a girl born Monday.

Most of the team’s 80 members were to leave Iran by Thursday, although a few Americans planned stay behind to help raise funds for the U.N. agencies and charities working in this city. Bam has tens of thousands of homeless and the quake destroyed its water and sanitation infrastructure.

A strong aftershock just after midnight Sunday woke up many people. There have been as many as 80 aftershocks since the Dec. 26 quake, toppling more masonry from already ruined homes, but causing no reported injuries, the United Nations said.

Final death toll: 30,000 to 32,000
A U.N. disaster report Monday authorities estimate the final death toll at 30,000 to 32,000 people, down from the previous estimate of 35,000.

However, Iranian Red Crescent teams unearthed more corpses Monday. Bulldozers leveled ruined properties and found decaying bodies. On Saturday, a rescue team found a 97-year old woman alive, buried in her Bam home.

A U.N. team has completed an assessment of the city’s humanitarian needs. U.N. official Ted Pearn said the world body plans to appeal later this week for aid over the next three months.

Meanwhile, international relief workers prepared to move their headquarters from a spacious military base to a soccer stadium.

“The army want their camp back,” Pearn said.

Bill Garvelink, head of the American team in Bam, said he was satisfied with outcome of the U.S. mission. So far, seven military transport planes have brought supplies like medicine, blankets and winterized tents. A couple more are due in the coming days.

“We accomplished what we wanted to do and the government (of Iran) has been cooperative. I think that, all in all, it’s been quite successful,” he said.

More than 30 countries contributed to the aid effort. The U.S. contribution drew a lot of attention as it followed 24 years of frosty relations between Washington and Tehran.