Rescue teams leave quake-shattered Bam

90 per cent of Bam cleared of bodies, rescue teams go home

Most of the bodies have been recovered in the quake-shattered city of Bam, Iran, and some of the international searchers went home on Friday.

Officials say more than 90 per cent of the city has been cleared of bodies.

A field hospital set up on Thursday by the United States treated at least 70 patients in its first day, most of them described as walking wounded and children having trouble breathing because of the dust.

The city of 80,000 was devastated by the 6.6-magnitude quake on Dec. 26.

The Americans and the help they offered were welcomed by the locals and doctors. The only hostility came from Mullah Abdullah Irani, who accused the U.S. workers of spying.

Earlier in the week, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami expressed gratitude for the American aid, but said it wouldn't ease the frigid relations between the countries.

Nonetheless, officials in Washington on Friday President George Bush was considering plans to send Senator Elizabeth Dole to Tehran.

Dole is the former head of the American Red Cross. Her husband Bob Dole is a former senator and one-time presidential candidate.

Her mission would be not only to help deliver earthquake assistance, but to send a clear signal that Washington wants relations to improve.

State radio, regarded as a mouthpiece for Iran's hardline clerics, on Friday accused Bush of continuing what it called America's interfering and hostile policy against Iran."

A source in the state department said Iran had rejected the idea of Dole's visit.

The UN says it will have its assessment of Bam's water, sanitation, food and shelter needs complete by the middle of next week.

Many of those who survived the quake have been sleeping in tents for days.

On Friday, some of them took a break from the work of searching for survivors and burying their dead to climb to the citadel located on the edge of town.

Dozens of aftershocks have continued to knock down walls and buildings throughout Bam, including those of the 2000-year-old mud fortress.

The tallest section of the popular tourist attraction crumbled during the original quake.

Khatami vowed earlier in the week to rebuild the citadel.

The United Nations had considered declaring the medieval fortress a protected World Heritage Site.