As the scale of the catastrophe swamped rescue workers. dozens of bodies littered the streets of the city, built almost entirely from mud brick and ill-equipped to withstand disaster.
Bereaved residents wandered the streets pleading for the authorities to speed up rescue efforts after the historic centre of the city – once a jewel in the crown of Iran’s rich culture – was completely destroyed.
“Seventeen of my relatives are buried under the ruins of my home, they’ve got to get a move on or all of them will die,” said one man as he attempted to shift the rubble with a spade.
Corpses on streets
At the other end of the street, a dozen corpses lay on the ground with no one able to attend to them.
The city’s streets were littered with body after body, with the scene one of utter devastation as far as the eye could see.
More than 90% of the old city was destroyed. Besides the flattened homes, the original historic centre with its 2000-year-old citadel, once the largest mud-brick structure in the world, was gone forever.
“Why is help so slow in coming? If we were in the West, all resources would have been mobilised,” said one survivor.
Many residents tried to shift debris using simple tools. Small teams from the Iranian Red Crescent also tried to do what they could.
Sadness turns to anger
A young Iranian woman cries in
Many residents scoured for any kind of vehicle that would take them to refuge in the province’s main city of Kerman.
“We have neither water nor food,” said an old woman, whose black veil was almost white with the dust that enshrouded everyone from head to foot.
But anger was beginning to kick in among the survivors, livid at the sluggish rescue mission.
“No-one has come to help us, all we are after is a tent. I feel I could die tonight it’s so cold,” said taxi driver Ahmasb Yousefabadi who lost 17 family members.
Roads into Bam were choked with ambulances and cars packed with people desperate to find out whether their relatives were alive.
As night fell, an icy chill gripped the city. People lit fires to keep warm and made torches from palm branches for light as they dug with bare hands for survivors.
Amid the incessant wailing of ambulances, a van drove down what 24 hours ago was the main boulevard in Bam, loaded almost to breaking point with bodies.
A girl who gave her name only as Maryam, 17, accepted the ambulances would come too late.
“I have lost all my family. My parents, my grandmother and two sisters are under the rubble,” she said.
“Why is help so slow in coming? If we were in the West, all resources would have been mobilised”
Bam earthquake survivor
Helicopters criss-crossed the sky, ferrying casualties to the provincial capital, 180 km away, because the city’s hospitals were levelled.
At the other end of the city, bulldozers ploughed mass graves in the cemetery.
As soon as the graves were dug, survivors buried their dead, foregoing the traditional Muslim rite of washing them beforehand because it was impossible to perform.
As men and women watched in tears, the diggers quickly dumped earth on top.
The people of Bam will spend Friday night without food and shelter, as an icy cold freezes what has become, in less than 24 hours, a ghost city.