A Kremlin commission overseeing earthquake relief efforts sharply criticized food suppliers in Armenia, saying their lack of vigilance has led to rumors of unfair food distribution, Tass reported Friday.
In another report, Tass said Defense Minister Dmitri T. Yazov called for an improved civil defense system to react to disasters like the Dec. 7 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people.The official news agency, in a report from the Armenian capital of Yerevan, said the Politburo commission led by Yuri Balatin warned that officials responsible for poorly organized food supplies to devastated northern Armenia would be held personally responsible.
"The work style of a number of officials is limited to commands. They do not actually have the situation in hand and do not make spot checks to exercise control at local level," Tass said.
Lack of control "has led to contradictory and unfounded rumors about an allegedly unfair distribution of relief aid," it said. It did not elaborate.
Tass also said 34 food stores reopened in the city of Leninakan, Armenia's second-largest with a population of 280,000 before the earthquake. Ten fruit and vegetable stores and nine department stores also reopened, it said.
On Thursday, Armenian officials said the number of bodies recovered was fewer than 25,000 and that only about 100 remained to be found. They blamed the initial death toll estimate of 55,000 on information based on the amount of physical destruction and the disruption of communications and transportation.
Many Armenians are still homeless and ailing, and foreign volunteers will be needed there for up to two years, West Germany's Red Cross president said.
"There is tremendous fear even now about the possibility of aftershocks, so even the little housing that is habitable in the worst-hit areas is being avoided," Botho Wittgenstein said in Cologne after returning from Armenia.
Other Red Cross officials said the housing problem is worsening because temperatures are falling and there is not enough tent space.
Tass said the Politburo commission adopted a plan for improving Armenia's railroads to ensure that aid gets to the stricken area.
Without dramatic improvements in the rail lines that were torn up by the quake, it said, aid won't reach affected areas fast enough.
Road, air and rail bottlenecks have slowed movement of relief supplies to the area in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains in the Soviet south. Officials from Premier Nikolai I. Ryzhkov down have criticized the organization of the early relief work.
Tass reported that Yazov has called for upgrading civil defense services in the Soviet Union, incorporating well-trained military and civilian experts.
Specialized foreign rescue teams using trained dogs and sophisticated equipment pulled scores of people from the rubble in the ruined cities. The Soviet Union did not have any comparable teams.
More than 23,000 soldiers were sent to the area to restore communications and utilities, preserve order, and provide medical care and food.