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Iran quake rescue efforts end

The final death toll may hit 50,000, Iranian authorities fear.
The final death toll may hit 50,000, Iranian authorities fear.

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The U.S. aid workers are the first American officials in Iran in 20 years.
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BAM, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian authorities say search and rescue operations to find survivors from last week's devastating earthquake in Bam are essentially over.

Thursday's announcement came a day after the Iranian army pulled out seven more survivors, bringing to 11 the number of people found alive over the past two days, army sources said.

But unless they were responding to specific information, no more rescue operations would be mounted, officials said on Thursday.

Aid organizations have been reporting progress in their efforts to care and provide for the tens of thousands left homeless by Friday's 6.6 magnitude quake that has left most of the ancient city completely flattened.

With both of the city's hospitals destroyed in the quake, and many neighboring health centers already overflowing with casualties, medical needs have been key to the aid effort.

Field hospitals are being set up and international teams of medical workers have been treating injuries.

The aid response is also concentrating on the recovery of bodies, with hundreds of quake victims being buried each day, and the prevention of disease.

Although a final death toll may still be several days away, the deputy governor of Bam Thursday said at least 26,500 people were killed and feared the total figure could approach 50,000 -- almost half of Bam's estimated population of 100,000 to 120,000.

The latest figure was down 3,500 from the estimate 24 hours earlier. No explanation was given.

Thursday is an official day of mourning and memorial services are planned nationwide for victims on Friday -- to mark a week since the quake struck.

Meanwhile, aid workers from the United States have joined teams from more than 20 countries operating in Iran following a massive response to calls for aid from Tehran.

Additionally, U.S. President George W. Bush has temporarily eased some sanctions restrictions on sending money and goods to Iran to expedite disaster relief.

Included are the issuing of blanket licenses to permit American firms and individuals to transfer funds to Iran as well as the export of transportation equipment, satellite telephones and radio and personal computing systems, U.S. officials said. (Full story)

A U.S. team of 60 doctors and 20 logistical experts were setting up a field hospital in the southeastern city Wednesday.

"We're going to try to meet many of the needs that have not met last week, but also to try to deal with many of the injuries that were not life threatening, but are still going to be very important in terms of preventing ultimate disease and death," said Susan Briggs, one of the Americans from Massachusetts General Hospital.

Some have hailed U.S. involvement as a possible avenue for improved relations between Tehran and Washington, which have been strained since President Carter's administration.

Iran's top political and spiritual leaders have promised to rebuild Bam -- a major tourist attraction before the quake with its famous, but now destroyed, 2,000-year-old citadel.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told a press conference in the provincial capital of Kerman Tuesday he would set up a non-government organization to rebuild Bam as quickly as possible, using funds provided by overseas and domestic sources.

Khatami and also Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, inspected damage at the city.

Khamenei urged all Iranians and groups to help, saying: "Aid should continue to come so that, God willing, it will be possible to rebuild the city of Bam better and this time stronger than before."

-- CNN's Kasra Naji contributed to this report


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