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Quake Toll May Be Far Lower Than Feared, Armenian Reports

From Times Wire Services

death toll from the Armenian earthquake may be far lower than an earlier official estimate of 55,000, Vardges Artsruny, one of Armenia’s deputy premiers, suggested Thursday.

Artsruny declined, however, to make a precise prediction of the final death toll.

“By Dec. 28, we had recovered 24,854 victims,” he said, speaking on an unusual TV hookup that allowed reporters in Moscow to ask questions of Armenian officials in their capital of Yerevan.

“The rescue is almost over,” he said. “We are still getting people out of the rubble, but the number is decreasing with each day.”

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After the quake devastated much of northwestern Armenia on Dec. 7, initial estimates placed the number of dead at 40,000 to 45,000. Then on Dec. 13, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov gave an estimate of 55,000. Unofficials estimates even put the figure as high as 100,000.

On Thursday, Yuri Hojamiryan, like Artsruny a deputy premier of the Armenian republic, said that confusion accounted for inaccurate initial estimates.

“When the earthquake had just taken place, there was an impression that there were more victims. That’s why at first we cited the figure of 40,000 to 45,000,” he said.

The officials bristled at repeated requests to clarify the discrepancy.

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“We expect maybe 100, 120 additional dead people (will be found) in the buildings that have not been cleared yet,” Artsruny said. “This is a very big number of victims. We are not exaggerating or underestimating. We are treating these figures very seriously.”

The two Armenian deputy premiers did not address the figure of 70,000 persons unaccounted for that was cited recently by Soviet officials. Most of these are probably people who fled to shelter with friends or relatives, rescue officials say. But an unknown number may be among the dead still entombed in the wreckage of buildings.

Authorities say they believe they have a good accounting of those they have freed from the rubble--dead or alive--and on those hospitalized and those who have been evacuated from the quake area. The names of all these have been stored in a computer.

A total of 15,254 people have been rescued alive from the rubble.

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Eduard Aykazyan, the Armenian government’s representative in Moscow, said that early death toll estimates were based on the percentage of buildings destroyed by the quake and guesses at the area’s population. The region’s nominal population of about 700,000 had swelled because thousands of refugees from ethnic violence in Azerbaijan had arrived recently.

Southland Armenian families forgo holiday festivities. Page 32.


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