Over 400 dead from earthquake in Iran-iraq border area
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 19 miles (31 kilometres) 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. Iran time, just as people were going to bed.
The worst damage appeared to be in the Kurdish town of Sarpole-zahab 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, without time to grab their possessions, 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-ezahab 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 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. He said most were treated for minor injuries and released, with fewer than 1,000 still hospitalized.
The number of dead came from the provincial forensic department based on death certificates issued. Some reports said authorities warned that unauthorized burials without certification could mean the death toll was 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 23.2 kilometres below the surface, a shallow depth that can have broader damage. Magnitude 7 earthquakes on their own are capable of widespread, heavy damage.
The quake caused Dubai’s skyscrapers to sway and could be felt 1,060 kilometres 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 emptyhanded when her apartment complex collapsed.
Relatives weep over the body of an earthquake victim in Sarpol-e-zahab, western Iran, Monday. Authorities reported a powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Iraq-iran border region on Monday and killed more than 400 people in both countries.