December 28, 2003


The death toll in Iran is impossible to quickly comprehend. As Michael Totten points out, the latest estimate (40,000) is equal to two-thirds the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. (To provide a local point of reference, Australia lost 40,000 in World War II.) Not that Iranians require any measure outside of their own tragic history -- an earthquake in 1990 killed 50,000.

Posted by Tim Blair at December 28, 2003 01:13 PM

It's absolutely mind-boggling, the scale of the destruction there. Unfortunately, it's also mind-boggling that they managed to take time to specifically refuse any official or unofficial aid from the one country in the region that has any real capacity to help them. How many lives could have been saved or limbs reattached if Israel had been allowed to provide emergency medical assistance in the first hours? 100? 500? 1000?

In a better world, they might even have asked their subcontractors in Gaza to keep quiet for a few days to let the aid workers stay on site instead of having to rush home to reattach legs in Jerusalem.

Posted by: Otter at December 28, 2003 at 01:43 PM

It's hard to believe that that many people can die from an earthquake.

(Here's a article quoting someone saying they welcome assistance from all countries except Israel)

Posted by: Andjam at December 28, 2003 at 02:49 PM

"they welcome assistance from all countries except Israel"


Posted by: samkit at December 28, 2003 at 02:59 PM

Actually, it's much more than 2/3s of those killed in Vietnam. We lost about 50,000 soldiers (Google search results in one number of 47,000).

So, we're talking about 4/5s or, at a minimum, 3/4s.

And our losses were, obviously, over more than a decade of fighting. The losses in Iran were overnight.



Posted by: SteveMG at December 28, 2003 at 03:16 PM

Remember also that Bam is a major cultural centre and tourist attraction. The cultural losses here are irreplacable.

Obviously human beings are a lot more important but in the long term the full public realisation of the significance of the destruction of Bam itself will leave Iran a much poorer place.

Posted by: gaz at December 28, 2003 at 03:22 PM

A major problem in that part of the world are the poor building codes. Those sort of casualty figures would be unlikely in NZ, Japan or the US -all earthquake-prone. This is not meant to be smart alec comment but rather a reminder that many of these tragedies can be lessened with present engineering technology.

Posted by: John Elliot at December 28, 2003 at 03:27 PM

My biggest annoyance - CNN was running the story about 7 dead people in California mudslides as their top story. Iran was buried like third or fourth.

I know it may be hard to get lots of footage from Iran, but gimme a break ... it really felt embarrassing, considering all the folks who pick up CNN in other countries.

At least print journalism got it right.

Posted by: Bill at December 28, 2003 at 04:34 PM

That's what you get for being part of the 'Axis of Evil'.

Posted by: Mike Hunt at December 28, 2003 at 05:28 PM

About 100,000 people die on an average day worldwide, with no particular disasters, and get no particular notice except by the individuals near to each; that local attention is what matters. The attention grabbing otherwise is vicarious entertainment, and is based on what disaster the target audience can relate to most reliably. So look for the deaths of beautiful white people in the news in the US, for instance, in the US news leads. The product of news organizations is not news, but you. They sell you to advertisers.

The US news tradition, for overseas disasters, is ``X were killed, including Y Americans.''

For domestic disasters, ``X were killed, including Y children.''

The formulas come from seeking out the largest audience for the story.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at December 28, 2003 at 05:48 PM

Iran's government opened its airspace to all planes carrying aid or relief workers. It also waived visa requirements for foreign relief personnel.

It's just as well they have waived visa requirements as they take at least 25 days, and women must respect Islamic dress code.

Posted by: Peggy Sue at December 28, 2003 at 08:13 PM


It's not surprising that deaths of people from the viewers' own country are regarded as more newsworthy than deaths from other countries. (Though I'd support the Iran earthquake being run first rather than 3rd/4th)

What I do find strange though, is that the Chinese media (a couple of months ago) gave more prominance to news of American coal miners being rescued than to news about Chinese coal miners in similar peril (China has a lot of coal-mining accidents).

Posted by: Andjam at December 28, 2003 at 09:55 PM

Andjam's right -- there's certainly a lot of jokes about Japanese media focusing on Japanese deaths to the exclusion of other news. It's hardly surprising that news media focus on locals.

I'd agree, though, that putting a story about seven Californians ahead of twenty thousand Iranians is ludicrous.

Posted by: John Nowak at December 28, 2003 at 10:25 PM

The many deaths are caused by mud and brick buildings that have not been made earthquake proof.You need to reinforce the bricks with wire--so that they won't break and collapse. This was NOT a major earthquake in it's power, the deaths are from neglect. Safety standards for building, anyone? anyone?

And then the government was slow in sending help...

In the Philippines, you will see shoddy workmanship, but you will also see wires going up the walls. These wires hold in place the bricks when the earthquakes shake them. Of course, poor houses in the Philippines tend to be of wood/bamboo/corregated tin, and wood/bamboo will rock with an earthquake, but the minimal death rate in the Philippines from larger earthquakes than this shows that even a poor country can protect their people with a little forsight.

Posted by: Nancy Reyes at December 28, 2003 at 11:50 PM


I don't know what the ecology of Bam would be, but some places may not have trees and therefore wouldn't have access to wood. These days they should be able to import wood, but there might a tendency to do the same as what was done in past generations.

(Some parts of the Great Wall of China are made from nothing more than dirt pounded into something solid)

Posted by: Andjam at December 29, 2003 at 12:09 AM

The number compares with the annual number of road fatalities in the USA of around 40,000

The number of Iranians killed in road fatalities in 1995 was 2,963

Comparing with the October 1989 earthquake in San Francisco:

"The final death toll of 63 was well below the 300 expected deaths. Over 3,500 people were injured and 100,000 buildings damaged."

Posted by: Tony at December 29, 2003 at 12:12 AM

Richter 6.7 earthquake in earthquake-prone California (a couple of weeks ago): 2 dead.

Richter 6.7 earthquake in earthquake-prone Iran: 20,000 to 40,000 dead.

Yes, it's building codes, but it's also the clowns who run the "Islamic" government. All that oil money could have been used to improve/strengthen buildings instead of going into the mulluh's Swiss bank accounts, and paying thugs to enforce "Islamic dress."

But then, I was never stupid enough to think those clowns cared about the Iranian people anyway, and rejecting expert help from Israel in such a crisis proves it.

The Iranians need a revolution against their revolting "leadership."

Posted by: Barbara Skolaut at December 29, 2003 at 12:48 AM

Andjam: I gather from other things I have read that the reason the Chinese focus on disasters in other countries rather than their own is that they prefer to divert attention from problems in their own country to "those foreigners, especially the capitalist ones"; like many totalitarian countries, they have this problem with facing their own deficiencies.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at December 29, 2003 at 01:29 AM

"were killed including" "children" in Google, surprisingly, turns up almost exclusively Palestinians killed in Israeli raids. Somebody else is using the US domestic disaster audience-gathering formula.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at December 29, 2003 at 01:41 AM

The seven people Killed in the mud slide in California would have been prevented if the church youth group had took a look at the recently burned out hill overlooking their campsite. Or if they had took a look at the numerous and detailed weather reports calling for heavy rain with possibility of mudslides. Basicly those seven people died bacause a youth pastor had his head firmly lodged up his ass.

The Iranians however are victims of act of God.

The thinking in putting the Mudslide deaths in California first is that there are plenty of hills that were defoliated in fire this season. And it is going to rain again. Chances are some more youth pastors are wandering campsites with somebody else's kids looking to become victims. This order of the news will no doubt reach a good percentage of the metally challenged, who would think it a good Idea to send their youngsters to a church camp during Christmas.

I can lay you odds Iran won't have another 6.7 quake. So the only story there is did the Iranians learn anything from this experience. They sent away aid from "the Zionist entity", so I'll lay you odds they didn't learn a damn thing. End of story. Copy on page six.


Posted by: papertiger at December 29, 2003 at 07:00 AM

mind boggling number of dead from natural disaster is about a half of one percent of the Iraqis and Iranians killed by Saddam's regime.

Posted by: papertiger at December 29, 2003 at 07:05 AM

Pap - you smokin' crack. (no offense)

I could give two shits about 9 people dying because of stupidity, and I really personally don't need a lesson in mudslides, what with living in DC and all, anymore than I need a lesson in earthquakes. The lessons from Jacko on skin bleaching, child molestation, plastic surgery and general wackery aren't providing me any service either.

Why not report on people who run yellow lights and die at intersections? I'm sure some church group bus has exploded with all 9 or so people aboard within the last year... and we could all learn a lesson about running red lights. (at least i'm sure Blair could)

Why haven't we heard about that? Cuz natural disasters are COOL and get RATINGS! Except when they happen to foreigners.

Seriously, nearly .1% of an entire country dying in 12 seconds is a pretty monumental world tragedy.

It makes me cringe to think that people get their opinions of Americans from cable news.

Posted by: Bill at December 29, 2003 at 09:18 AM

Living in DC I'll lay odds that bill smokes crack or possibly deals it. We could apply that same logic to people gunned down at gas stations. Really a couple two or three people dropped by gun wealding crazies, does that really need to be covered 24/7 on ever cable news network?

Bet the belt way sniper would have got the fourth spot coverage if it was in Miami. You would have had to Google it if it happened in Tehran.

Posted by: papertiger at December 29, 2003 at 01:13 PM