Dr. Aznauryan assembled his division managers
to mobilize a communications post and sent all available ambulances with as many physicians and nurses
as could fit in the vehicles to the scene. The drive to
Spitak was slow because of road damage from the
earthquake, and by the time the first teams arrived,
the sun had already set. Working by the headlights of
the ambulances, first responders began rescuing the
victims buried beneath the rubble. Physicians later
described the scene, where they found some victims
who were alive but pinned under structural collapse.
To free these patients, amputations of arms or legs often
were performed using local anesthesia and with the
aid of flashlights.
The next several days confirmed the republic leaders’ worst fears: approximately 25,000 men, women, and
children had died, and an estimated 130,000—nearly
80 percent of Spitak’s population—had experienced
traumatic injuries. In no more than 20 seconds, the
earthquake had essentially destroyed the city.*
Responding to the request for help
At the time of the earthquake, I was professor of surgery and chief of plastic surgery at Yale University
School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. On the morning
of December 8, my administrative assistant informed
me that there had been a telephone call earlier from
the Soviet Union Embassy in Washington, DC. We
returned the call to the First Secretary of the Soviet
Embassy, who informed me of the catastrophic earthquake and asked if I would be willing to go to Armenia
to offer my professional assistance.
*Barringer F. The Gorbachev visit; Thousands feared dead in Soviet
caucasus quake. New York Times. December 8, 1988. Available at: www.
dead-in-soviet-caucasus-quake.html. Accessed December 7, 2015.