BAM (Iran): Desperate cries of “Help me, help me” greeted university student Peyman Majidzadeh when he arrived at this devastated ancient Silk Road city on the morning of Dec 27, a day after the earthquake.
“We wanted to go to Bam immediately after hearing about the earthquake but the road from Kerman was jam-packed with people wanting to go there to find out about the fate of their loved ones.
“The next day, bus drivers came to my university in Kerman and volunteered to take us free of charge to Bam. In all, five bus loads of about 300 students left for Bam at about 6.30am,” recalled the 21-year-old English language undergraduate.
He said when they arrived at the city centre at about 9am, the scene was one of chaos.
“People were rushing all over to find out what had happened to their family. Everyone seemed to have a purpose and seemed to be lost as to what to do.
“My friends and I wandered about, trying to do what we could. About half an hour later, a man came running to ask us to rescue his parents, who were in their 60s, and an 18-year-old sister, who were buried under their collapsed mud-brick walled house.
“We started digging with our hands and managed to reach the room where they were buried alive.
“The man was found dead, crouching beside a wall with his hands over his head as if to protect himself from falling rubble.
“The woman was lying face down on the floor. She was wearing prayer robes,” said Peyman, adding that the girl could not be found.
Peyman said that many of the people he came across that day “acted strangely.”
“Some people would suddenly cry while others laughed as if they had no care in the world,” he added.
Peyman was himself traumatised by the experience.
“I was in a stupor afterwards. Once, I found myself wandering to an automated teller machine (ATM) and was about to insert my ATM card into it, when I realised that I had more than enough money on me,” he added.
When asked what the experience had taught him, Peyman said he now realised that life is too short.
“We should make use of life on earth to the fullest. Don’t worry too much about making money ... live a happy life,” he added, saying that the earthquake had also claimed the life of renowned 40-year-old Iranian folk singer, Iraj Bastami.
Trauma among the survivors of the earthquake is an issue Mercy Malaysia team leader Dr Dilshaad Ali Abas Ali is concerned about as some of the patients he had treated exhibited symptoms of the post-traumatic syndrome, including the inability to sleep, anxiety and depression.
Iranian Saeid Norouzi, 36, a psychologist specialising in crisis intervention for child survivors of disasters, said the reality of what happened in Bam would hit the survivors in another one to two weeks' time.
“Delayed grief would hit the victims of a disaster about two or three weeks after the event. Suddenly, there is realisation of the magnitude of what has happened, especially if they returned to their homes or began reminiscing about their dead loved ones.
“This is because during the first few days of a disaster, victims or survivors are usually emotionally shielded by the need to keep alive and the same feelings of helplessness and grief shared by others around him or her,” added Norouzi, who works in the counselling division of the State Welfare Organisation.
He said aftershocks (which occur daily – we sometimes feel up to four a day) could also trigger the post-traumatic syndrome.
“The aftershocks would bring back memories of the actual tremblor of Dec 26. Many victims may also experience irregular sleeping patterns and not be able to sleep at night, especially children,” he said.