Five days after an earthquake devastated the Iranian city of Bam in December, Asghar Rastegar, M.D., professor of medicine and associate chair for academic affairs in the Department of Internal Medicine, was on an AmeriCares cargo plane carrying 80,000 pounds of emergency supplies. His mission was to help deliver the supplies and assess the city’s medical needs for the next two to three months. Rastegar was asked to help because he is originally from Iran and had worked with AmeriCares on relief efforts after a 1990 earthquake there. And he’s familiar with the area, having taught at the medical school in Kerman, the provincial capital 120 miles from Bam.

“It was a very peculiar feeling,” he said of the approach to Bam. Roads were open and there were no immediate signs of devastation. “You enter the city and after two blocks everything is destroyed.”

The earthquake, which struck at 5:30 a.m. on December 26, destroyed most of the city, including its two hospitals. The death toll was at least 43,000. Most of the city’s health workers were killed, leaving no one to treat the injured during the crucial eight hours following the earthquake. Although physicians and nurses from Kerman and other nearby cities filled the gap heroically, Rastegar said national planning for the earthquake was missing. “Iran sits on a major earthquake fault,” he said. “This is going to happen again.”

Now Iranian officials, working with Iranians who live in the United States, are planning meetings to prepare an emergency response plan.