Hunt for survivors after quake kills 415 near Iran-Iraq border
Amir sends condolences to Iranian, Iraqi leaders
TEHRAN: Teams of Iranian rescuers dug through rubble in a hunt for survivors yesterday after a major earthquake struck the Iran-Iraq border, killing at least 415 people and injuring thousands. The 7.3magnitude quake rocked a border area 30 km southwest of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan at around 9:20 pm (1820 GMT) on Sunday, the US Geological Survey said. Many people would have been at home when the quake hit in Iran’s western province of Kermanshah, where authorities said it killed at least 407 people and injured 6,700. Across the border in more sparsely populated areas of Iraq, the health ministry said eight people had died and several hundred were injured. Iraq’s Red Crescent reported nine dead and more than 400 injured.
HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sent a cable of condolences to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the deaths inflicted by the earthquake. HH the Amir appealed to His Almighty to bestow great mercy upon the souls of the victims and wished the injured quick recovery. Sheikh Sabah also sent condolence cables to Iraqi President Fuad Masum and Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi over the victims of the quake. HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf AlAhmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables to Rouhani, Masum and Abadi.
As dusk approached yesterday, tens of thousands of Iranians were forced to sleep outside in the cold for a second night as authorities scrambled to provide them with aid. Some had spent Sunday night outdoors after fleeing their homes in the mountainous cross-border region, huddling around fires at dawn as authorities sent in help. “People’s immediate needs are firstly tents, water and food,” said the 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.
Hundreds of ambulances and dozens of army helicopters reportedly joined the rescue effort after Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the government and armed forces to mobilize “all their means”. Foreign media organizations had not received authorization to visit the scene of the disaster yesterday. Officials said they were setting up relief camps for the displaced. Iran’s emergency services chief Pir Hossein Koolivand said landslides had cut off roads to affected villages, impeding the access of rescue workers. But by late afternoon, officials said all the roads in Kermanshah province had been re-opened, although the worstaffected town of Sarpol-e-Zahab remained without electricity, said state television.
Officials said 22,000 tents, 52,000 blankets and tons of food and water had been distributed. The official IRNA news agency said 30 Red Crescent teams had been sent to the quake zone. After initially pinning the quake’s epicenter inside Iraq, the USGS then placed it across the border in Iran yesterday morning. Iran’s Sarpol-e-Zahab, home to some 85,000 people close to the border, was the worst hit with at least 236 dead. At dawn, buildings in the town stood disfigured, their former facades now rubble on crumpled vehicles.
In an open space away from wrecked housing blocks, men and women, some wrapped in blankets, huddled around a campfire. Iranian media reported that a woman and her baby were pulled alive from the rubble. The towns of Eslamabad and Qasr-e-Shirin were also affected, while the tremor shook several western Iranian cities including Tabriz. Some 259,000 people live in the region, according to the most recent census.
State television showed tents, blankets and food being distributed in areas struck by the temblor. In neighboring Dalahoo county, several villages were totally destroyed, an official told Tasnim agency. In Iraq, the health ministry said the quake had killed seven people in the northern province of Sulaimaniyah and one in Diyala province to its south. More than 500 people were injured in both provinces and the nearby province of Kirkuk.
Footage posted on Twitter showed panicked people fleeing a building in Sulaimaniyah as windows shattered at the moment the quake struck. Images from the nearby town of Darbandikhan showed walls and concrete structures that had collapsed. Nizar Abdullah spent the night with neighbors sifting through the ruins of a two-storey home next door after it crumbled into concrete debris. “There were eight people inside,” the 34-year-old Iraqi Kurd said. Some family members managed to escape, but “neighbors and rescue workers pulled out the mother and one of the children dead from the rubble”.
The quake, which struck at a relatively shallow depth of 23 km, was felt for about 20 seconds in Baghdad, and for longer in other provinces of Iraq, AFP journalists said. Iraqi health authorities said they treated dozens of people in the aftermath, mostly for shock. It was also felt in southeastern Turkey, an AFP correspondent said. In the town of Diyarbakir, residents were reported to have fled their homes. Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Syria offered their condolences, while Pope Francis called the quake a “tragedy” and expressed his “prayerful solidarity” with victims. The quake struck along a 1,500-km fault line between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates, which extends through western Iran and northeastern Iraq. The area sees frequent seismic activity.
In 1990, a 7.4-magnitude quake in northern Iran killed 40,000 people, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless, reducing dozens of towns and nearly 2,000 villages to rubble in just seconds. Thirteen years later, a catastrophic quake flattened swathes of the ancient southeastern Iranian city of Bam, killing at least 31,000. Iran has experienced at least two major quake disasters since, one in 2005 that killed more than 600 and another in 2012 that left some 300 dead. — Agencies
A woman mourns as she holds the body of her daughter who died in an earthquake in Sarpol-e-Zahab in western Iran yesterday.
Survivors sit in front of buildings damaged by the earthquake in Sarpol-e-Zahab yesterday. — AP
Iranians mourn over the body of a victim in Sarpol-e-Zahab yesterday. — AFP