Clark Caras can only hope his two Armenian friends survived the destructive earthquake that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Armenians.

The Benjamin native, who has been to Armenia - the Soviet republic devastated by an earthquake Wednesday - says residents of that country lived with the threat of large earthquakes much as residents of the Wasatch Front do: By keeping the possibility always in mind.Caras, a former Deseret News staff writer who is now a public relations assistant at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, traveled to Armenia and Soviet Georgia in 1984 with a group of journalism students from the University of Wisconsin.

On one of his first evenings in the Armenian capital city of Yerevan, his group visited Lenin Square. The square was filled with thousands of Armenians; coming to the square each evening was the "social thing to do." The group was approached by two Armenian youths, Vahan and Karen, who became the group's personal tour guides for the rest of the time in Yerevan.

"They took us everywhere, to restaurants, tourist sites and a soccer match," Caras said. "One of the things they brought up all the time was their fear of earthquakes."

Caras said Vahan and Karen were fascinated by des-criptions of America, particularly of Hawaii and California. (The largest Armenian-American population resides in California; the state's governor, George Deukmejian is of Armenian descent.) "I remember Vahan said to me, `There are lots of quakes in California, same as here,' " Caras said.

The group spent six days in Yerevan, from which rescue efforts are now being coordinated, observing the television, radio and newspaper operations in that city.

"At the time, it was the eve of glasnost," Caras said. "Travel into the republic was very restricted, but we were one of a small number of groups allowed to travel through the country extensively."

In some ways, Yerevan is like Utah Valley, Caras said.

Located on the plain of Ararat, Yerevan is surrounded by steep rocky mountains. The people, who with their olive skin and dark hair and eyes have an exotic look, are friendly and very family oriented.

Religion is also a focus point in the lives of Armenians, who are predominately Armenian Orthodox.

Yerevan, the republic's largest city, has no huge high rises like most modern cities; its largest buildings were constructed in the 1920s, in an old style of architecture featuring massive arches and huge blocks. The tallest building in the city, a student dormitory, had 17 stories, Caras said.

"The majority of buildings were constructed of brick, layed laid by hand, brick by brick," Caras said. "Volcanic rock was used in home construction."

Buildings in the cities hardest hit by the earthquake, Leninakan and Kirovakan, both north of Yerevan, were similar, largely constructed of brick, concrete and stone. Reports indicate that at least half the buildings in both cities were leveled.

The subject of earthquakes also came up in Tbilisi, capital of the Soviet Republic of Georgia, where many of the injured are being taken.

"We were joking about it at dinner one night," Caras said. "But our tour guide assured us that the new buildings were quite safe. The problem is that there are not a lot of new buildings.

"It is devastating to think about the future of their country because of the deaths of so many children in the schools," Caras said. "I am not an expert on the area; I was just there and fell in love with the place."