Survivors of the Armenian earthquake are freezing to death at night because only a fraction of the thousands of tents sent to the disaster area reach the homeless, a Soviet newspaper reported Tuesday.
Rescuers struggled to haul heavy equipment into the disaster area and evacuate victims, despite roads jammed with grieving relatives, a mountain snowstorm and temperatures that dropped below zero degrees Fahrenheit.The Foreign Ministry Tuesday put the official death toll from the Dec. 7 quake at 55,000 and the number of injured to 13,000.
Hope dwindled for those trapped in the ruins, and the smell of decaying corpses filled the air. Rescuers have pulled 18,500 people from the wreckage in the past four days, but only 5,400 people were alive, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov told reporters Tuesday in Moscow.
Newspaper accounts made it clear that despite the outpouring of international aid, Armenians were suffering from lack of shelter and medical care.
"In the corridor of a hospital, a man ran about, clutching the tiny body of a child to his breast, crying, `Please, help me!' " said the newspaper Socialisticheska Industria, in an article that also told how doctors were pressed into service building temporary housing.
The Communist youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda said 60,000 tents have been sent to the disaster area, but most of the 500,000 homeless are shivering around bonfires in the ruins.
"The collapsed villages are suffering especially from the disaster," the newspaper said, citing helicopter Capt. Sergei Bobylev. In one village 20 children died in the quake and "now survivors are dying from cold," the newspaper said.
Only two roads and one railroad are open to the mountainous disaster area, hindering delivery of cranes and bulldozers. The labor newspaper Trud reported evacuees cut off by a snowstorm. Many supplies are arriving by helicopter and parachute.
"Our nation is so undeveloped we can't even receive help properly," said one unidentified air traffic controller on the verge of tears at the airport in Yerevan, the Armenian capital 50 miles to the southeast of the disaster area.
In hard-hit Leninakan, once a city of 250,000, the remaining residents were beginning to suffer from the lack of drinking water, sewage- and garbage-hauling facilities, and transport, said Sovietskaya Rossiya.
The newspaper said it was understandable that officials responsible for such services were in a state of shock, "as practically everyone lost families," but the lack of action could not continue.
In some towns, no one was organizing relief efforts because all the officials died in the quake, Soviet television reported Monday night.
Relief efforts were blocked in the first days after the quake by huge traffic jams, as an "avalanche" of worried relatives drove to the disaster area, Socialisticheskaya Industria said.
"The ambulances were flashing their lights in vain," the newspaper said. "Dead-tired traffic inspectors tried to stop cars with their chests. But their self-sacrifice couldn't change the disorganization."
Soviet Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov admitted to reporters Monday that rescue efforts suffered from a lack of organization. But he said he could not find fault with the enthusiasm of thousands of rescue and medical workers or of the 19,000 soldiers keeping order.
Sverre Kilde, a U.N. disaster relief officer, said no Soviet troops were visible in Leninakan, although they can be seen hauling supplies in many photographs of the disaster area.
"Here there are 50-60 people shouting in all directions," said Kilde, speaking of a site he visited in Leninakan on Sunday. "It would have been much more reasonable to have an army captain or colonel in charge of it."
The Politburo commission overseeing the rescue efforts on Monday visited some villages near Leninakan and Spitak - a city of 25,000 that was nearly destroyed by the quake - and found them in equally bad condition as the two cities, Ryzhkov said.
He also said that many people died unnecessarily in the quake due to "gross violations" in planning and building apartment buildings that collapsed on occupants.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who visited the area during the weekend, and a government commission also believe there were "very many violations," he said.