Of­fi­cials raise Iran-Iraq earth­quake death toll to at least 530

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Saeed Ka­mali De­hghan Iran cor­re­spon­dent

Ira­nian of­fi­cials have raised the death toll from Sun­day’s earth­quake of 7.3 mag­ni­tude on its bor­der with Iraq to at least 530, mak­ing it the dead­li­est in the world this year.

The coun­try’s pres­i­dent, Has­san Rouhani, trav­elled on Tues­day to Ker­man­shah, the area hard­est hit by the earth­quake, which was felt hun­dreds of miles away in both Tehran and Bagh­dad.

Of­fi­cials in Iran de­clared Tues­day as a na­tional day of mourn­ing and news­pa­pers broke with tra­di­tion to pub­lish their front page head­lines in the Kur­dish lan­guage, in a rare move show­ing sol­i­dar­ity with the ma­jor­i­tyKur­dish ar­eas worst af­fected.

“Iran wept”, read the front page of Aftab-e-Yazd, over a big photo of an Ira­nian woman hold­ing a lost fam­ily mem­ber in her arms. “Ker­man­shah, you are not alone,” read the re­formist Etemaad’s head­line.

Mo­ham­mad-Ali Mon­shizadeh, an of­fi­cial from Ker­man­shah prov­ince, told the Irna state news agency: “Up to now, we have is­sued 430 death cer­tifi­cates … but an es­ti­mated num­ber of 100 to 150 more peo­ple have been buried in quakestricken vil­lages and towns with­out per­mis­sion … which raises the over­all death toll to be­tween 530 to 580 in Ker­man­shah.”

At least 7,460 peo­ple were in­jured dur­ing the earth­quake, which hit seven big cities and 1,950 vil­lages in the prov­ince. Of­fi­cials said 12,000 houses had been com­pletely de­stroyed and a fur­ther 15,000 dam­aged, Irna re­ported.

Iran strug­gled to shel­ter all those af­fected on Mon­day night as thou­sands were forced to sleep in the open air with­out elec­tric­ity or wa­ter sup­plies. “We are liv­ing in a tent and we don’t have enough food or wa­ter,” Ali Gu­lani, 42, from Qasr-e-Shirin, told BBC’s Per­sian ser­vice. “You can hear chil­dren cry­ing; it’s too cold. They are hold­ing on to their par­ents to warm them­selves – it’s pretty bad.”

More than 316 peo­ple were killed in the town of Sar­pol-e Za­hab alone, about 10 miles from the Iraqi bor­der. At least 28 peo­ple were also re­ported to have been killed in Qasre-Shirin, an­other city in Ker­man­shah that serves as a gate­way for trade be­tween Iran and Iraq.

A res­i­dent, Khos­row, told BBC Per­sian: “Walls have fallen on my sis­ters and fa­ther. I had to drag them out of the house. My mother is in­jured. My aunt, cousin and my cousin’s chil­dren died. The whole vil­lage is ru­ined. Graves are cracked and some of the bod­ies have come out of the ground.”

The quake was cen­tred 19 miles (30.6km) out­side the east­ern Iraqi city of Hal­abja, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent mea­sure­ments from the US Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey. There were also ca­su­al­ties on the Iraqi side but the num­ber of those killed in Ker­man­shah was sig­nif­i­cantly higher.

Rouhani, promis­ing vic­tims emer­gency fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, said in Ker­man­shah: “I want to as­sure those who are suf­fer­ing that the gov­ern­ment has be­gun to act with all means at its dis­posal and is scram­bling to re­solve this prob­lem as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

Se­ri­ous ques­tions have been raised about the con­struc­tion stan­dards of a se­ries of newly built apart­ments that col­lapsed or were se­verely dam­aged. Iran’s first vi­cepres­i­dent, Eshaq Ja­hangiri, said many had been built as part of an af­ford­able hous­ing scheme in­tro­duced by the for­mer pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad.

The Ira­nian daily news­pa­per Hamdeli blamed Ah­madine­jad for the scale of de­struc­tion, pub­lish­ing a car­toon on its front page un­der the head­line “This is what you cooked [for us]” of the for­mer pres­i­dent tak­ing a selfie in the rub­ble.

The US put dif­fer­ences aside on Mon­day to ex­press con­do­lences with the peo­ple of Iran and also Iraq, in com­ments that were also widely re­ported across the Ira­nian me­dia. “We keep the fam­i­lies of those who were killed, and in­jured, in our thoughts as well as the com­mu­ni­ties that have suf­fered dam­age to homes and prop­erty,” said Heather Nauert, the US state de­part­ment spokes­woman.

Iran has seen pow­er­ful earth­quakes in re­cent decades. The 1990 Man­jil–Rud­bar earth­quake in north­ern Iran, which had a mag­ni­tude sim­i­lar to the one on Sun­day, re­sulted in the deaths of 35,000 to 50,000 peo­ple. The 2003 Bam earth­quake in the south­ern Ker­man prov­ince killed at least 31,000. Sun­day’s earth­quake was the dead­li­est in Iran for more than a decade.

Build­ings dam­aged by the earth­quake in Sar­pol-e Za­hab, Ker­man­shah, Iran. Pho­to­graph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

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