Iranian authorities on Sunday were starting to draw up a multi-million-dollar reconstruction plan for earthquake-hit Bam, but the foreign ministry said the time was not yet right to receive a high-level US delegation to follow up on Washington’s dispatch of aid.
With almost all of the 30,000 or so dead now buried and an official mourning period over, officials said a special committee had been formed to oversee plans for the rebuilding of the southeastern city and its ancient citadel.
Half the reconstruction cost, at the moment estimated to total at least 4,000 billion rials (400 million euros, 500 million dollars). But Iranian authorities appeared undecided over whether the city should be put up again on the same site, with fears over its stability compounded by the dozens of powerful aftershocks that have hit the area since the December 26 devastation. Minds were also focused on the political dimension of the quake: arch-enemy Washington’s sending of aid supplies and relief teams as well as the offer to follow up by flying over a top-level delegation.
The United States approached Iran after the quake about the possibility of sending a delegation headed by top Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole and also suggested that a member of President George W. Bush’s family might accompany her. Had the mission gone ahead, it would have been the first public official US visit to the Islamic nation since a 1979-1981 crisis, when 52 Americans were held hostage in Iran for 444 days and the two countries broke diplomatic ties. But Asefi said the Islamic regime, lumped into an “axis of evil” by Bush in 2002, needed more gestures before being in a position to resume any dialogue.
After days of clearing away rubble and frantic searching for bodies among the ruins, the rhythm of life was slowly returning to normal in Bam — with the focus shifting to the thousands of survivors who have spent more than a week under canvas in freezing conditions.
Thousands have fled the city in fear of more destruction, but most of the 40,000 people who survived the initial quake have been camping outside the ruins of their homes to protect what remains of their properties. The provincial judiciary said security forces have arrested 140 looters since the quake struck, with the culprits transferred to the nearby city of Kerman and set to be “tried quickly”.
Banks and even the local post office have reopened amidst the rubble, while classes were due to resume on Monday — although local council official Ali Shafiie said some 9,000 students and 2,000 teachers were killed.
The Tehran press reported that one of Iran’s sporting heroes — weight-lifter Hossein Rezazadeh — had auctioned the vest in which he won the 2003 world championships for 40,000 dollars to help fund a new orphanage for Bam. Interior Minister Abolvahed Musavi-Lari said around 30,000 people had lost their lives in the quake. A top aide told state television they included more than 1,300 Afghan refugees.