By Saeed Komeijani
BAM, Iran - Mourning Iranians have flocked to the southeastern city of Bam in recent days to mark the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake which killed tens of thousands and left the ancient Silk Road city in ruins.
Bam, a date palm oasis in Iran's southern deserts built around an ancient citadel, was flattened by an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale before dawn on December 26 last year. More than 31,000 people were killed.
Scores of bereaved relatives, clad in black, arrived from neighbouring towns, heading straight to the city's cemetery to pay their respects to the dead.
"I now live in Kerman, I have come back after a year to be with my loved-ones for a day," said middle-aged man Ebrahim Faramarzpour. "I have lost 28 family members."
Men, women in all-enveloping chadors, the young and the old spent the day sitting amid tombs decorated with flowers and black candles, praying for the dead.
Readings from the Koran echoed from loudspeakers through the cemetery and mixed with the cries of mourners.
"My Hassan, my Hossein, where are you? ... My heart is burning, won't you come back my children? It's already a year!" wailed Masoumeh Ebrahimpour, 50, as she looked over the nine tombs of her family members.
Most of Bam remains in ruins and the slow pace of reconstruction has angered survivors and some officials.
"Overcoming a disaster in such a scale is not easy ... there might have been some shortcomings," President Mohammad Khatami, who visited Bam this week, was quoted as saying by the state-run Iran newspaper.
"Bam will stand again before the end of this government," he said. Khatami will leave office in August.
But survivors, some still living in tents, are sceptical.
"Once there were houses here, there was life here, now it is a ruin. Who has helped these people? No-one!" a middle-aged woman complained.
The mass collapse of Bam's buildings has been blamed for the high death toll. Quakes of similar force in other countries have caused far fewer deaths.