BALLARAT's Iranian community is rallying behind a young Mt Clear family who have lost up to 150 relatives in the Iran earthquake.
Hossein Mohebi and his young family are grieving the loss of his mother Fatemeh, brother-in-law Mohammad and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins as a result of the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that devastated the ancient city of Bam on Friday.
Professor Mohebi, who is on a year's study leave at the University of Ballarat, yesterday said the family was struggling to come to grips with the tragedy.
"This is a tragedy. We are very worried and very sad," he told The Courier.
"My wife lost many close relatives - uncles, aunts, her grandmother and cousins. I have lost my mother and my sister's husband."
Prof Mohebi was at home with his wife Maryam and daughters Azadeh, 16, and Atefeh, 12, when he learned of the disaster from an early morning media report on Friday.
Immediately, the father-of-three tried to contact family members in Iran, but to no avail.
"I tried to call my city, but all the telephone lines were disconnected," he explained.
"I was shocked and upset because I could not do anything."
Eventually, Prof Mohebi received a telephone call from his 21-year-old son Ehsan in Iran.
"My first contact with Iran was with my son. He is in Iran for his studies and was due to stay with my mother in Bam, but decided to travel to Kerman (200 kilometres from Bam) so he is safe," Prof Mohebi said.
"It was a miracle."
Unfortunately for the Mohebi's, further contact with their homeland confirmed their worst fears.
On Saturday, Maryam's father called from Kerman with devastating news about their family.
Later, Prof Mohebi's youngest brother called from Jiroft, near Bam, to inform his brother that the quake had claimed the lives of their mother and brother-in-law.
"Little by little, I heard bad news for me and my wife," he said.
"Together, we have lost about 150 relatives."
Some relatives, however, managed to survive the tragedy, much to the amazement of Prof Mohebi and his wife.
Four of Prof Mohebi's five sisters, who live in Bam, were among the lucky ones.
The earthquake caused their house to crack, but failed to bring it to the ground.
One of Maryam's sisters and her two young children, aged one and four, also managed to escape their Bam home, which was reduced to rubble, unscathed.
Maryam's parents, two brothers and two other sisters do not live in Bam and are also safe.
"At first we did not believe that they were alive, that they had survived," Prof Mohebi said.
"It was only after we actually spoke to them, that we could believe it."
Prof Mohebi and his family moved to Ballarat from Kerman for a year's study leave in July.
Despite the tragedy, the family plans to stay in Ballarat until Prof Mohebi completes his research.
"I still have some work to do with my research. When I'm finished we will go home," he said.
"I would like to go back (now), but last night I had a call from my university and they said it would be better to stay here. If I go back, I cannot do anything."
Prof Mohebi is a professor in mathematics at Kerman University.
One of his brothers also teaches at the university, which has about 20,000 students.
Prof Mohebi and Maryam were born in Bam.
They are among a handful of Iranian families currently living in Ballarat.
Prof Mohebi said the tight-knit community had provided a wealth of comfort to his family since the earthquake.
"The support has been wonderful," he said.
"I have good friends here."
University of Ballarat lecturer Faezeh Afshar was among those offering the family support yesterday.
Ms Afshar is also organising a memorial service for the family at her Mt Helen home on Saturday.
A similar service, run by Melbourne's Iranian community, will be held in Melbourne on Sunday.
"It's very hard to imagine what they are going through right now," Ms Afshar said.
"The hurt is too deep. It's unimaginable."
Ms Afshar said Atefeh's Mt Clear Primary School teacher had also visited the family.
"The support has been great," she said.
"The way everyone comes together when tragedy strikes brings hope to humanity. It shows that there are glimpses of light when all is dark."
Saturday's memorial service will be held at 9 Darriwell Drive, Mt Helen, from 2pm-4pm.
The service will include special Arabic readings and prayers.
All are welcome to attend.
HOW CAN I HELP?
Australians can donate to the Iranian appeal by contacting: UNICEF Australia: 1300 884 233
Australian Red Cross: 1800 811 700.
Caritas Australia: 1800 024 413
Oxfam Community Aid Abroad: 1800 034 034.