In pictures: to the anniversary of Armenian earthquake,BBC

On 7 December 1988 a devastating earthquake in northern Armenia killed 25,000 and left hundreds of thousands homeless in the Soviet republic.

The 6.8 magnitude quake affected an area 80km (50 miles) in diameter.

Mikhail Gorbachev cancelled an official visit to the United States and toured the cities devastated by the earthquake. In a move unprecedented in the Soviet Union, the leader called for the international community to help Armenia.

Spitak, a town of 25,000 inhabitants, was completely destroyed.

The city of Leninakan, with 290,000 inhabitants, and the towns of Stepanavan and Kirovakan, were also heavily hit. Leninakan, the second largest town in Armenia, never fully recovered from the earthquake.

Coffins in the devastated Spitak. The quake struck at 11:41 local time when children were at school and most adults were at work.

Most Armenian towns had many Soviet-era high-rise buildings that did not withstand the quake.

The scale of the destruction prompted claims that infrastructure was substandard, provoking the Soviet authorities to pledge that Spitak would be rebuilt with blocks no more than five storeys high.

The Soviet Union was heavily criticised for failing to co-ordinate rescue work and acting promptly.

Survivors of the quake scrambling for bread supplies. The Soviet authorities revealed there had been no disaster contingency plans.

Armenians unloading medical supplies from the French humanitarian agency Medecins du Monde. The authorities specifically sought international help with blood transfusion equipment and dialysis machines.

The quake displaced thousands of families. Improvised camps for the homeless sprang up in the devastated town of Leninakan and nearby villages.

Instead of quickening political change, the earthquake deepened Armenia’s sense of isolation. New cities begun by Moscow in 1989 remained half-built.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was a major hindrance to reconstruction in the quake zone. Years later many Armenians were still living in metal shelters, like these on the outskirts of the city of Gyumri.


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