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U.S. medics join Iran quake effort

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An orphan is fed by an Iranian woman in Kerman.

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The U.S. aid workers are the first American officials in Iran in 20 years.
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U.S. aid workers' arrival spurs hope for renewed dialogue with Iran.
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A family buries a son and struggles to stay warm after the Iran earthquake.
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AID ON THE GROUND
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BAM, Iran (CNN) -- Aid workers from the United States have joined teams from more than 20 countries in the earthquake-devastated Iranian city of Bam.

The Iranian government says 30,000 people died in Friday's 6.6-magnitude quake, and fears the final number could approach 50,000.

The grim numbers -- especially given Bam's pre-quake population stood at between 100,000 and 120,000 -- came after the nation's top political and spiritual leaders visited the ancient city and promised to rebuild it.

A team of 60 doctors and 20 logistical experts from America was setting up a field hospital in the southeastern city Wednesday, and planned to begin treating patients later in the day.

"We're going to try to meet many of the needs that have not met last week, but also to try to deal with many of the injuries that were not life threatening, but are still going to be very important in terms of preventing ultimate disease and death," said Susan Briggs, one of the Americans from Massachusetts General Hospital.

The Americans have been "warmly and positively received by the people of Iran," said U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.

Some have hailed U.S. involvement as a possible avenue for improved relations between Tehran and Washington, which have been strained since President Carter's administration.

There was some success Tuesday for the search and rescue effort, as members of the Iranian army recovered four survivors who had been buried in the rubble since the quake hit. Rescuers say there is now little hope of finding anyone alive under the rubble.

Disease prevention is now a top priority for aid workers, along with helping survivors combat the bitter cold at night.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told a press conference in the provincial capital of Kerman Tuesday he would set up a non-government organization to rebuild Bam as quickly as possible, using funds provided by overseas and domestic sources, according to IRNA.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also inspected damage caused by Friday's 6.6-magnitude quake.

Khamenei urged all Iranians and groups to help, saying: "Aid should continue to come so that, God willing, it will be possible to rebuild the city of Bam better and this time stronger than before."

Ted Pearn of the U.N. Disaster Assessment Coordination Team in Bam said: "We must continue to be hopeful somewhere people might be recovered and combine that with other aid needs or concerns like disease and shelter."

He said it was important rescuers scanned all parts of the ruined city in a coordinated manner. By the end of Tuesday, he said that officials would have an overall picture of what Bam needs in aid.

U.N. aid officials said water and electricity had been restored to major parts of the city. They said there were critical shortages of medicines, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, stoves, blankets and food.

Large sections of the city haven't been searched by rescue teams or even by any of the thousands of Iranians who picked through the wreckage. Heavy equipment has been called in to remove rubble.

Tens of thousands of people are homeless. Many of them are sleeping in tents donated by international aid agencies and have been enduring nights of freezing cold, huddled over fires.

Planes delivering supplies and personnel from at least 21 countries have converged on the airport in the provincial capital of Kerman, where they were unloaded for the 120-mile drive to Bam.

CNN's Kasra Naji contributed to this report.


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