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30 years on: The BBC and Public Radio of Armenia accompany British rescuers to Spitak
2018-12-07 13:38:15

British rescuer Reggie Berry has returned to Spitak 30 years after he rushed to help save survivors in the aftermaths of the devastating earthquake of 1988, but found only bodies. He rushed to Armenia within a 23-member group of firemen from the County of Lancashire.

Accompanied by correspondents of the BBC and the Public Radio of Armenia, two members of that group – commander Paul Burns and fireman Reggie Berry – once again walks in the cemetery on the hill above Spitak, where all gravestones show the same date of death: December 7, 1988 - the day the earthquake struck. Under many gravestones are those found in the ruins by Reggie Berry.

“We were coming here to save people, but when we reached here [on ecember 12], it became clear that the rescue operation was turning into search for bodies,” Berry says.

“But hope dies last. There have been cases that people have been taken out of rubble after twenty-four days ... Therefore, you still hope, and you push your people again, and again, and again in the hope that you will still find someone alive,” says Burns.

In Spitak the British rescuers were welcomed by Samvel Matosyan, who now heads the local Culture House. Thirty years ago he was the headmaster of one of the schools.

Trapped under rubbles in his office, Matevosyan managed to get out of the ruins and join the rescue works. He met the British rescuers five days after the quake. And Samvel led the British through the ruins of schools and kindergartens to look for the bodies of children.

December 7 marks the 30th anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Spitak. The earthquake hit 40% of the territory of Armenia, densely populated regions with 1 million people.

The cities of Spitak, Leninakan (now Gyumri), Kirovakan (now Vanadzor) and Stepanavan, as well as hundreds of villages were totally or partially destroyed. Twenty-five thousand people were killed, 500 thousand were left without shelter. 17% of the buildings were destroyed, the work of 170 industrial companies was halted.

Immediately after the earthquake Armenians all over the world united and offered comprehensive support to the Motherland. “SOS Armenie,” “Aznavour for Armenia” and tens of other organizations were created. Many Diaspora Armenians rushed to Armenia, bringing food, clothes and medicine.

Many of them – doctors, psychologists, constructors, architects – stayed in Armenia and personally participated in the rescue works.