Hun­dreds killed in quake

Mag­ni­tude 7 tem­blor strikes Iran-Iraq bor­der, caus­ing mas­sive dam­age in both coun­tries

Kingston Whig-Standard - - WORLD NEWS - NASSER KARIMI and AMIR VAHDAT

TEHRAN, Iran — Res­cuers dug with their bare hands Mon­day through the de­bris of build­ings brought down by a pow­er­ful earth­quake that killed more than 400 peo­ple in the once-con­tested moun­tain­ous bor­der re­gion be­tween Iraq and Iran, with nearly all of the vic­tims in an area re­built since the end of the ru­inous 1980s war.

Sun­day night’s mag­ni­tude 7.3 earth­quake struck about 31 km out­side the east­ern Iraqi city of Hal­abja, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent mea­sure­ments from the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey. It hit at 9:48 p.m. lo­cal time, just as peo­ple were go­ing to bed.

The worst dam­age ap­peared to be in the Kur­dish town of Sar­pol-eZa­hab in the western Ira­nian prov­ince of Ker­man­shah, which sits in the Za­gros Moun­tains that di­vide Iran and Iraq.

Res­i­dents fled into the streets as the quake struck, as apart­ment com­plexes col­lapsed into rub­ble. Out­side walls of some com­plexes were sheared off by the quake, power and wa­ter lines were sev­ered, and tele­phone ser­vice was dis­rupted.

Res­i­dents dug fran­ti­cally through wrecked build­ings for sur­vivors as they wailed. Fire­fight­ers from Tehran joined other res­cuers in the des­per­ate search, us­ing dogs to in­spect the rub­ble.

The hospi­tal in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab was heav­ily dam­aged, and the army set up field hos­pi­tals, al­though many of the in­jured were moved to other cities, in­clud­ing Tehran.

It also dam­aged an army gar­ri­son and build­ings in the bor­der city and killed an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of sol­diers, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei im­me­di­ately dis­patched all gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary forces to aid those af­fected.

Many of the heav­ily dam­aged com­plexes in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab were part of con­struc­tion projects un­der for­mer hard-line pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad. The newly home­less slept out­side in the cold, hud­dled around makeshift fires for warmth, wrapped in blan­kets — as were the dead.

The quake killed 407 peo­ple in Iran and in­jured 7,156 oth­ers, Iran’s cri­sis man­age­ment head­quar­ters spokesman Behnam Saeedi told state TV. Most of the in­juries were mi­nor, he said, with fewer than 1,000 still hos­pi­tal­ized. The semi-of­fi­cial Tas­nim news agency re­ported 445 dead and 7,370 in­jured. There was no im­me­di­ate ex­pla­na­tion of the dis­crep­ancy, al­though dou­ble­count­ing of vic­tims is com­mon dur­ing such disas­ters in Iran.

Some re­ports said au­thor­i­ties have warned that unau­tho­rized buri­als with­out cer­ti­fi­ca­tion could mean the death toll was ac­tu­ally higher.

In Iraq, the earth­quake killed at least seven peo­ple and in­jured 535 oth­ers, all in the coun­try’s north­ern, semi­au­tonomous Kur­dish re­gion, ac­cord­ing to its In­te­rior Min­istry.

The dis­par­ity in the fa­tal­ity fig­ures im­me­di­ately drew ques­tions from Ira­ni­ans, es­pe­cially be­cause so much of the town was new.

The earth­quake struck 23 km be­low the sur­face, a shal­low depth that can have broader dam­age.

The quake caused Dubai’s sky­scrapers to sway and could be felt 1,060 km away on the Mediter­ranean coast. Nearly 120 af­ter­shocks fol­lowed.

Kokab Fard, a 49-year-old house­wife in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab, said she could only flee empty-handed when her apart­ment com­plex col­lapsed.

“Im­me­di­ately af­ter I man­aged to get out, the build­ing col­lapsed,” Fard said. “I have no ac­cess to my be­long­ings.”

Reza Mo­ham­madi, 51, said he and his fam­ily ran into the al­ley fol­low­ing the first shock.

“I tried to get back to pick some stuff, but it to­tally col­lapsed in the sec­ond wave,” Mo­ham­madi said.

Au­thor­i­ties set up re­lief camps and hun­dreds lined up to do­nate blood in Tehran, though some on state TV com­plained about the slow­ness of aid de­liv­ery.

Sar­pol-e-Za­hab fell to the Iraqi troops of dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein dur­ing his 1980 in­va­sion of Iran, which sparked the eight-year war be­tween the two coun­tries that killed 1 mil­lion peo­ple. Af­ter the war, Iran be­gan re­build­ing the town. It also was part of Ah­madine­jad’s low-in­come hous­ing project, which aided the hard-liner’s cre­den­tials but also saw cheap con­struc­tion.

Un­der the plan, some 2 mil­lion units were built across the coun­try, in­clud­ing hun­dreds in Sar­pol-e Za­hab. Many crit­i­cized the plan, warn­ing that the low-qual­ity con­struc­tion could lead to a dis­as­ter.

“Be­fore its 10-year an­niver­sary, Mehr build­ings have turned into coffins for its in­hab­i­tants,” the re­formist Fararu news web­site wrote Mon­day.

In Iraq, the quake shook build­ings from Ir­bil to the cap­i­tal of Bagh­dad, where peo­ple fled into the streets.

Iraqi seis­mol­o­gist Ab­dul-Karim Ab­dul­lah Taqi, who runs the earth­quake­mon­i­tor­ing group at the state run Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal De­part­ment, said the main rea­son for the lower ca­su­alty fig­ure in Iraq was the an­gle and di­rec­tion of the fault line in this par­tic­u­lar quake.

Turkey dis­patched emer­gency aid to north­ern Iraq as of­fi­cials ex­pressed “deep sad­ness” at the dis­as­ter. Kerem Kinik, the Turk­ish Red Cres­cent’s vice-pres­i­dent, said that 33 aid trucks were en route to Su­laimaniyah, Iraq, car­ry­ing 3,000 tents and heaters, 10,000 beds and blan­kets, as well as food.

POURIA PAK­IZEH/ISNA VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

In this photo pro­vided by the Ira­nian Stu­dents News Agency, a res­cue worker searches for sur­vivors with a sniff­ing dog af­ter an earth­quake at the city of Sar­pol-e-Za­hab in western Iran on Mon­day.

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