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Earthquake Coverage: When A Tent Becomes A Palace

When A Tent Becomes A Palace

By James Addis - Location: Bam, Iran

Image taken Jan 05 2004 of World Vision Correspondent James Addis in Iran.

Khazam Ghazanfari, 57, says he is in heaven. A remarkable comment from a man who just a week ago lost one of his wives, a son and his son in law in the fiercest earthquake to hit his hometown of Bam in living memory.

But his woes did not end there. For the next eight nights he and his two remaining wives his children and grandchildren slept out in the open, next to their flattened home, with no respite from the bitter, bitter cold which descends on Bam as soon as the sun goes down.

Khazam is surprised those of his family who survived the quake managed to survive the cold.

"I myself am a sick man. My eldest son helped a lot. And then I think God helped us a lot too," he says.

The reason he thinks he is now in heaven is that his family was among the first to benefit from a World Vision distribution of tents, a gift made possible by World Vision donors.

A 6x4 metre tent might not seem like much ? especially when it has to house eight family members, but Khazam cannot express his gratitude strongly enough. To him the accomodation is palatial.

"This is the first day we have a roof over our heads and somewhere to live," he says Before that we would simply wrap the children in blankets and huddle as close as we could around an open fire."

"People did take pity on us ? gave us some blankets. But they were crowded out themselves ? they had no room for us."

Khazam was out of town seeing an eye specialist in the nearby town of Kerman when the quake struck but he does not count this as good fortune. When he heard the news of mass destruction he became distraught at what might have happened to his relatives and immediately pawned some jewellery to pay for the taxi home.

When he arrived, after battling the congested traffic, the city of Bam was unrecognisable ? a sea of loose bricks, columns, window and door frames. Streets had simply disappeared. He could hardly work out where his house had been. Khazam is now not sure how long he wandered bewildered amongst the wreckage. His next memory is being found by his eldest son Mohammad, who broke the news about the deaths in the family. Mohammad was exhausted. He had spent eight hours pulling his sister Mahdieh out of the rubble of their home. She was badly injured. Khazam was needed to take her to the airport to be flown to a hospital in Kerman.

Meanwhile Mahdieh was grieving for the loss of her husband. He had tried to reach her as she cradled her children Aida and Mahsa and screamed for help as their house collapsed around them. He never made it. He was suddenly crushed under a pile of bricks.

During the next few days Khazam could do little but try and absorb which members of his family were alive and who was dead. If there was one consolation it was that all but one of his children survived.

In the general chaos that followed the quake, Khazam missed out on an initial distribution of tents made by the Iranian Red Crescent society. As if he had not already suffered enough, there were eight freezing nights of bitter cold ahead, until he received the tent from World Vision.

"The situation is so much better for the children. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much," he says.

Photo resources: John Schenk will send initial digital pictures. Also look for attached digital with this story. Photos show Khazam outside his new tent, outside his wrecked home and where the family formerly camped. Children with Khazam are Grandchild: Aida, 5, wearing red top Grandchild: Mahsa, 4, wearing grey coat with red stripes on arms Daughter: Marzieh, 2, normally being held by Khazam Daughter: Razieh, 4, wearing pink bonnet.

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