President sends condolences to Iran, Iraq following disaster
President Xi Jinping on Tuesday sent condolences to his Iranian and Iraqi counterparts over a massive earthquake near the Iran-Iraq border area on Sunday, and pledged steadfast support to the two nations.
A devastating magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck on Sunday, causing the deaths of at least 530 people while injuring more than 8,000 others, with more still buried in ruins.
In messages of condolences sent respectively to Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani and Iraqi president, Fuad Masum, Xi said that he was shocked at the strong earthquake that caused heavy causalities and property losses in the two countries.
On behalf of the Chinese government and people, as well as in his own name, Xi extended his deep condolences to the victims and offered sincere sympathies to those injured and families of the victims in the messages.
Xi also expressed his belief that the Iranian and Iraqi people, under the leadership of their presidents as well as their governments, will overcome the disaster and rebuild their homeland.
The Chinese people stood firmly with the Iranian people during this difficult time, Xi said.
The epicenter of the quake was located about 30 kilometers south of the city of Halabja in a remote mountainous region of eastern Iraq, some 200 km northeast of Baghdad and 400 km west of Teheran, according to the United States Geological Survey.
At least 14 provinces in Iran were affected by the tremor, including the capital city of Teheran. The worst-hit areas were Qasr-e Shirin and Sarpol-e Zahab counties in Kermanshah province, about 20 km from the border.
The earthquake and aftershakes with the magnitude varying from 4.5 to 6.1 were felt in Turkey, Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Iran has declared Tuesday a national day of mourning as officials outlined the most pressing priorities and described the levels of destruction in some parts as “total”.
“People’s immediate needs are tents, water and food,” said head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari.
“Newly constructed buildings ... held up well, but the old houses built with earth were totally destroyed,” he told state television during a visit to the affected region.
On Tuesday, rescuers used backhoes and heavy equipment to dig through the debris of toppled buildings.
Both rescuers and local residents alike stood atop the remains of apartment complexes, looking through the rubble. They used heavy blankets to carry away corpses.
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 Teheran.
President Rouhani arrived in Kermanshah on Tuesday to see the damage.
“This was a pain for all Iranians. Representing the nation of Iran, I offer my condolences to the people of Kermanshah, and tell them that all of us are behind Kermanshah,” he said.
Officials said they were setting up relief camps for the displaced and that 22,000 tents, 52,000 blankets and tonnes of food and water had been distributed. The official IRNA news agency said 30 Red Crescent teams had been sent to the area.
As one of the most seismically active countries in the world, Iran is crossed by several major fault lines that cover at least 90 percent of the country.
On the side of Iraq, the quake has led to the deaths of six people in Sulaimaniyah province and the injuries of more than 150 others.
The tremor was felt in many Iraqi provinces in the north and central regions, including the capital city of Baghdad, witnesses said.
Deadliest earthquakes of last decade
People gather around a leveled building in the mountainous town of Darbandikhan in Iraqi Kurdistan on Monday, following a magnitude 7.3 quake that hit the Iraq-Iran border area.