January 7, 2004

Cornellian Only American to Die in Bam Earthquake

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Only one day after announcing their engagement, Adele Freedman ’86 and Tobb Dell’Oro ’85 were trapped in the earthquake that hit the ancient Iranian city of Bam on Dec. 26. Dell’Oro died; Freedman survived.

The Associated Press reports that although the quake destroyed 85 percent of the city’s buildings and killed more than 30,000 of its 80,000 people, Dell’Oro is the only American to have died.

The couple’s trip to Iran was intended to be a getaway, says Newsday.com. The two had been traveling since December 17, and planned to come home January 12, when the 6.6 magnitude quake destroyed the roof of their hotel. Freedman and Dell’Oro were trapped in debris for four to six hours.

It was the efforts of tour guide Farzaneh Khademi, and the rescue party she assembled, that ultimately led to the couple’s escape from beneath the rubble. Both victims were alive at the time of recovery, Freedman with a crushed foot and Dell’Oro bleeding from the torso with his lungs pierced. A recent article in the New York Times suggested that the piercing may have been caused by a ceiling fan.

Despite what family members describe as excellent treatment – according to pressdemocrat.com, Freedman’s mother, Annamae, says that the couple was among the first to be rescued and the zealous search party did so with their bare hands – Dell’Oro died on the trip to the hospital.

The distance to the nearest hospital capable of treatment turned out to be over 150 miles. Dell’Oro bled to death on the ride there.

Freedman survived, “traveling 600 miles in a series of nightmarish car rides and hospital stops that eventually landed her in one of Iran’s best private hospitals” said the New York Times.

She has fractures in her toes and in one foot and ankle, and has soft tissue damage in her other leg. Freedman’s doctors feared that the news of Dell’Oro’s death might send her in to shock, so Freedman’s family flew to Tehran on January 3, to deliver the news themselves and to escort her home to Great Neck, N.Y.

As of Monday, Freedman had returned to the United States and was in stable condition at New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens, according to the Associated Press.

Though both Cornell graduates, Freedman and Dell’Oro did not meet until 12 years after either of their graduations, at a party on the other side of the country. Freedman told the New York Times that she and Dell’Oro struck up a conversation about a mutual desire to travel to Bhutan at a function arranged by Dell’Oro’s market research group in 1998. They were both living near San Francisco at the time.

Freedman is a lawyer for GCA Law Partners LLP. According to the company website, she joined GCA in August of 1999, and her practice focuses on corporate and securities law. Dell’Oro had degrees in both engineering and business from Cornell, but left an engineering company in 1995 to run a telecommunications market research company with his sister, Tam.

Freedman and Dell’Oro were travelers. The two had ventured to places as far off as Laos, Cambodia and Morocco. Freedman was initially concerned about the trip to Iran, telling the New York Times that she is “Jewish, and…was a little afraid of that. [She] was a little afraid of the hejab and running afoul of those laws.” Ultimately, Freedman and Dell’Oro decided Iran was a destination where, at the least, they would be safe from bombings.

Tam Dell’Oro told the New York Daily News, “they loved going and exploring all the reaches of the world. They were a very loving and devoted couple.”

Archived article by Erica Fink

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