A major international assistance effort was being organized today as rescuers clawed through a sea of rubble and mud in northern Iran, searching for entombed survivors of an earthquake that officials say killed at least 28,950 people.
At least 100 aftershocks continued to rattle the northern region near the Caspian Sea, shaking the capital, Tehran, and causing new landslides that trapped trucks carrying relief supplies.
But a fleet of rescue helicopters and planes got through to areas cut off by Thursday's quake. The planes brought tons of supplies and carried out thousands of survivors.
Rescuers began using dogs today to search for survivors and victims trapped beneath the mountains of rubble. About 6,000 victims, many injured but alive, were dug out and airlifted from Gilan and Zanjan provinces to hospitals in other cities.
More than 28,000 were reported injured in Thursday's minute-long quake, which wiped out entire towns and villages, toppled office and apartment buildings, buried houses and wrecked roads. The disaster flattened huge areas of the fertile Caspian region.
The United States, France, Britain, Japan and Switzerland offered financial aid and specialized equipment.
In London, the International Rescue Corps, a volunteer organization, said it was sending to Iran a 17-member team equiped with ultrasonic listening equipment and thermal cameras capable of sensing body movement and heat.
Iranian television showed rescuers backed by bulldozers digging through the remains of shattered buildings in Gilan and Zanjan provinces, hardest hit by the quake, which measured 7.3 on the open-ended Richter scale and was centered 125 miles northwest of Tehran.
Gilan and Zanjan, with a combined population of 4 million people, span a combined area of 20,000 square miles. Helicopter pilots involved in rescue operations told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that Gilan was devastated.
"There is no point between the provincial capital Rasht and Loushan, 80 miles to the south, which has been spared by the disaster, as the view from the sky shows," IRNA quoted the pilots as saying.
A dam south of Rasht burst, flooding the surrounding area, IRNA said. Telephone lines and electricity and water supplies were cut in the two provinces.
Hospitals throughout Iran were overflowing with victims, some flown to medical centers 600 miles from the quake zone.
IRNA said rescuers trying to reach remote areas were hampered by blocked roads that were gradually being cleared of rubble and debris. Many towns and villages were without drinking water or electricity.
President Bush sent a message of condolence to Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani along with the U.S. offer of assistance. It was delivered to Iran by an unidentified country because the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran.
AmeriCares, based in New Canaan, Conn., said in a statement that it was preparing to send containers of medicine and other relief supplies to Iran "as soon as clearance has been received from the Iranian government to land our aircraft in that country."
Brian Ruberry, a spokesman for the American Red Cross in Washington, said the organization was raising money rather than shipping supplies, and had established a toll-free nationwide telephone number (1-800-842-2200) for people wanting to make contributions.
"We're attempting to raise money to send to the Red Crescent Society to help buy tents, blankets, food, medical supplies and emergency lighting," he said.
Red Crescent is the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross.
Japan today pledged relief funds and goods worth more than $1.5 million. Officials said Japanese rescuers would bring equipment such as camera-equipped fiberscopes and sound detectors to help find people trapped beneath rubble.
The Foreign Ministry said $1 million of the Japanese contribution would be channeled through the Red Cross and $539,000 more in supplies would be flown to Iran. The Japanese Red Cross Society was making an initial donation of $65,000, it said.
United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, in a message to Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, said the U.N. system was ready to provide all possible assistance. Its disaster relief coordinator dispatched an emergency team, and an airlift of emergency supplies from U.N. warehouses was undertaken in coordination with Iranian authorities, officials said.
A statement from the U.N. Disaster Relief Organization in Geneva said the most immediate needs were for medicine, medical supplies and tents. Other needs include canned food, blankets, clothing, vehicles and heavy-duty equipment.
The organization was sending a senior officer and relief coordination officer to the stricken areas, and a special task force was established at the Iranian president's office to coordinate relief, the U.N. said.
The Iranian government already has allocated $14 million for relief.