The stench of death blew over the quake-hit areas of northwest Iran, the legacy of a killer temblor that flattened several towns and scores of villages last week.
Manjil, once a city of about 90,000 people in the Alborz Mountains, now is buried under tons of rubble.The city is near the community of Rudbar and others that Thursday's quake wiped off the map.
A French team with dogs and cats trained to sniff for people buried under rubble searched for survivors over the weekend. Saturday, they found three little girls, the daughters of Manjil's mayor, still alive some 60 hours after the quake.
"The dog approached the rubble and appeared to have sensed something but moved away," said Abbas Medadian, a volunteer relief worker.
"Then the French trainer sent the cat, a big black animal . . . and she began to scratch with her paws. They pulled up the bricks and found the three little girls in their pajamas," Medadian said. There was no word on the whereabouts of the mayor and his wife.
Thousands of people still lie buried under the rubble of what was once a beautiful little town in a green valley in the mountains. It is crushed as though hit again and again by a giant hammer.
Only five people in Manjil were unhurt by the quake that struck at 31 minutes after midnight Thursday. There was no immediate count of how many injured were removed to hospitals, but - unlike many other regions of the country - relief workers in Manjil suspected that some of the thousands buried under the rubble may yet be alive.
Worrying about disease and bending under the sheer magnitude of their task, workers took corpses by the truckful to a cemetery on a hill nearby and placed the dead in rows in trenches.