Frigid, foggy weather and problems in the Soviet supply line cost rescuers vital time Wednesday in their race to supply Armenian earthquake survivors with food, medicine and shelter.
Health Minister Yevgeny Chazov said 60 more survivors had been pulled from wreckage in northern Armenia in the past day, but those rescued now face a danger of pneumonia and other illness caused by their exposure to bad weather.He did not elaborate about those rescued and acknowledged the chances of finding more survivors were dwindling, but he reporters "that we cannot and will not abandon the search until we clear all the ruins and all the debris."
Medical experts say it is already too late to help thousands of people who remain trapped under rubble and that relief efforts must focus on the hurt and homeless.
Gennady I. Gerasimov, Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Wednesday that 55,000 people died in the Dec. 7 earthquake. About 500,000 of the area's 700,000 people were left homeless.
Flights between Yerevan, the Armenian capital, and the disaster area were delayed by rain, snow and fog. Belgian and French relief planes, which had been delayed in Moscow because of fog in Yerevan, later flew to Armenia.
Airports in Armenia have been clogged with relief traffic and two planes have crashed: a Soviet Il-76 military transport on which 78 people died and a Yugoslavia military plane on which seven died.
The weather forecast was worsening, with the weekend expected to bring more snow and winds up to 45 mph.
The survivors "are almost totally isolated in the cold," said Dr. Bernard Mankikian, who returned to Paris after visiting Spitak, a city that was destroyed by the quake.
The communist youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted Capt. Sergei Bobylev as saying in one village that "survivors are dying from cold."
At the airport in Spitak, "a huge quantity of goods desperately needed in the disaster areas has piled up," the Communist Party newspaper Pravda said.
It said there was no regular supply of hot food to survivors and that there were difficulties providing tents to survivors and rescuers.
George Reid, a spokesman for the Geneva-based League of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, said in Yerevan that Soviet officials had asked for tents to set up housing and emergency medical services in 48 villages.
In its Tuesday editions, Pravda gave the first indications that looting and other crimes were becoming a problem in the disaster area, reporting break-in attempts at a jewelry store and apartments and the slaying of one person.
It also said helmeted soldiers wearing bulletproof vests had taken up positions in the streets of Leninakan to keep order.
Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov, head of earthquake relief, said on Monday that a "special situation" had been declared in Leninakan and Spitak to give the Soviet army power to maintain peace.
The reconstruction effort needed in areas flattened by the quake will cost an estimated $8 billion, Ryzhkov said.
Michael Hurley, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said today that Soviet rescuers had requested mass quantities of plastic sheets for use as temporary shelters.