The Digital Journalist
The Life Which Stopped in 13 Seconds
January 2004

by Yalda Moayeri

When I entered the ancient city of BAM it was about midnight, 26 of December, the very end of the day the earthquake had hit in the early morning.

Iranian clergies supervise burials

Photo by Yalda Moayeri/Iranian Photo Agency
The entire city was in deep darkness and often a ray lightened some points. Right away I rushed to Public Aid Center. At the entrance I could see different groups of people coming out, carrying blankets on their shoulders.

From the Public Aid Center one of the locals gave me a ride to a neighborhood near the center of earthquake. I am really unable to describe my sense of what I was observed. Groups of people were gathering on the corners of streets and dumbly and stirringly watched the fire which they had made.

I felt that I could hear screams of people who were buried under the rubble and the streets were overwhelmed by their sounds. I saw food remains that were still fresh, and household ice that was not yet melted. It was just like "that!" The life had been ceased.

The next morning was something else: It was really a human tragedy.

The BAM disaster, because it was unpredictable and took place at a time when most people were sleeping, somehow reminded me of the Hiroshima tragedy.

People gathered in front of the debris of their houses and tried to clear the rubble away with their hands, seeking their beloveds, with the hope of finding them alive or even finding a sign of them.

This boy was seeking his father's corpse. Some minutes later his scream alarmed others that he succeeded.

Photo by Yalda Moayeri/Iranian Photo Agency
Someone asked me, "Do you remember the public graves you saw in Iraq? I can show you something which is beyond with that," and took me to the burying-ground. I will never forget what I saw there. The loaders worked non-stop and dug holes that were somehow similar to a mass grave. Others buried the corpses that were about to decay.

They buried the members of each family together in one grave: It was as if all of the fellow-citizens were burying each other. Among them I saw people who desperately tried to find their beloveds among the corpses.

Always in such scenes I wonder if I should put my camera away and go for help or continue my job. As a photojournalist my mission is to show the different aspects of each event to other people but... In such circumstances it is always very hard not to being overwhelmed. You do your best.

From time to time I stopped beside the people who sat crying in front of their houses' rubble or their beloveds' graves and listened to their stories.

This girl had the expression of an old lady.

Photo by Yalda Moayeri/Iranian Photo Agency
Many years ago I had a trip to BAM and memories of its very tall palms and the beautiful Bam Citadel had been carved in my mind. Now the beautiful Bam Citadel, a legacy of Iran's ancient civilization, was destroyed. A man who was the guide of Bam Citadel for many years and had repeatedly reported its history for Iranian visitors and foreigner tourists for thousands times, sat dumbly in front of the ruins with crying eyes, saying, "I don't know what I shall talk about in the future."

In spite of public aid from common people and many organizations from all over Iran and the world, many people were in very bad condition from the vast dimensions of the disaster. Some of them were emigrating to other cities to stay with their relatives. When I asked one of these people why he was leaving, he replied, "How can I stay in the city where life is stopped?"

Yes, the life was stopped in BAM in just 13 seconds.

© Yalda Moayeri
Iranian Photo Agency