Iran ends quake res­cue op­er­a­tions, hun­gry sur­vivors bat­tle cold

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

ANKARA / SAR­POL-E ZA­HAB, Iran: Ira­nian of­fi­cials called off res­cue op­er­a­tions, say­ing there was lit­tle chance of find­ing more sur­vivors from the earth­quake that shook parts of western Iran Sun­day, killing at least 530 peo­ple, state me­dia said Tues­day.

Sur­vivors, many left home­less by the 7.3 mag­ni­tude earth­quake that struck vil­lages and towns in a moun­tain­ous area bor­der­ing Iraq, bat­tled overnight tem­per­a­tures just above freez­ing and faced an­other bleak day Tues­day in need of food and wa­ter.

The death toll of 530, re­ported by state news agency IRNA, made it Iran’s dead­li­est earth­quake in more than a decade. The agency also re­ported 7,817 peo­ple were in­jured and 30,000 homes dam­aged. Two whole vil­lages were de­stroyed.

Health Min­is­ter Has­san Ghaz­izadeh Hashemi, who vis­ited Ker­man­shah Tues­day, warned that the death toll prob­a­bly would rise.

The quake struck on the Iran-Iraq bor­der, caus­ing most of its dam­age in Iran de­spite an epi­cen­ter on the Iraq side of the fron­tier. Iraqi of­fi­cials said seven peo­ple were killed and 325 in­jured in Iraq, all in the north­ern Kur­dish prov­inces.

Iran’s Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani ar­rived in the morn­ing in the stricken area in Ker­man­shah prov­ince and promised that the gov­ern­ment would “use all its power to re­solve the prob­lems in the short­est time.”

Thou­sands of peo­ple hud­dled in makeshift camps while many oth­ers chose to spend a sec­ond night in the open, de­spite low tem­per­a­tures, be­cause they feared more tremors af­ter some 193 af­ter­shocks, state tele­vi­sion said.

A home­less young woman in Sar­pol-e Za­hab, one of the hard­est-hit towns, told state TV that her fam­ily was ex­posed to the night cold be­cause of lack of tents. “We need help. We need ev­ery­thing. The au­thor­i­ties should speed up their help,” she said.

Tele­vi­sion showed res­cue work­ers comb­ing through the rub­ble of dozens of vil­lages im­me­di­ately af­ter the quake. But by Tues­day morn­ing Ira­nian of­fi­cials said there was no longer any like­li­hood of find­ing sur­vivors and called the res­cue off.

Iran’s top au­thor­ity, Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, of­fered his con­do­lences Mon­day to the vic­tims and called on gov­ern­ment agen­cies to do all they could to help.

The Ira­nian army, the elite Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard and forces of its af­fil­i­ated Basij mili­tia were dis­patched to af­fected ar­eas Sun­day night.

Hos­pi­tals in nearby prov­inces took in many of the in­jured, state tele­vi­sion said, air­ing footage of sur­vivors wait­ing to be treated. Hun­dreds of crit­i­cally in­jured were dis­patched to hos­pi­tals in Tehran.

Iran’s Red Cres­cent said emer­gency shel­ter had been pro­vided for thou­sands of home­less peo­ple, but a lack of wa­ter and elec­tric­ity as well as blocked roads in some ar­eas hin­dered aid sup­ply ef­forts. “Peo­ple in some vil­lages are still in dire need of food, wa­ter and shel­ter,” said the gov­er­nor of Qasr-e Shirin county in Ker­man­shah prov­ince, Fara­marz Ak­bari.

The mayor of Ezgeleh, a city in Ker­man­shah, said 80 per­cent of its build­ings had col­lapsed. Sur­vivors des­per­ately needed tents with el­derly peo­ple and ba­bies as young as 1 year old sleep­ing in the cold for two straight nights.

In an in­ter­view with state tele­vi­sion, Nazar Barani asked peo­ple to send fuel, milk, wa­ter and food as emer­gency ser­vices were too slow and pro­vid­ing lim­ited pro­vi­sions.

“Peo­ple are hun­gry and thirsty,” a lo­cal man told ISNA news agency.

“There is no elec­tric­ity. Last night I cried when I saw chil­dren with no food or shel­ter.”

Houses in Ira­nian vil­lages are of­ten made of con­crete blocks or mud brick that can crum­ble and col­lapse in a strong quake. Some peo­ple are an­gry that many of the heav­ily dam­aged or col­lapsed build­ings were homes that the gov­ern­ment has built in re­cent years un­der an af­ford­able hous­ing pro­gram.

Un­der the plan dubbed as Mehr or “kind­ness” in Farsi, some 2 mil­lion units were built in Iran, in­clud­ing hun­dreds in Sar­pol-e Za­hab.

Rouhani him­self said the gov­ern­ment would launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into why the state-con­structed build­ings so eas­ily top­pled.

“The faults and short­com­ings in the con­struc­tion of these build­ings should be in­ves­ti­gated,” he said, ac­cord­ing to the state-run IRNA news agency. The “gov­ern­ment will def­i­nitely fol­low up on these is­sues and iden­tify the cul­prits.”

Pho­to­graphs posted on Ira­nian news web­sites showed res­cue work­ers dig­ging peo­ple out of col­lapsed build­ings, cars smashed be­neath rub­ble and res­cue dogs try­ing to find signs of life un­der the twisted ru­ins.

Iran is criss­crossed by ma­jor fault lines and has suf­fered sev­eral dev­as­tat­ing earth­quakes in re­cent years, in­clud­ing a 6.6 mag­ni­tude quake in 2003 that re­duced the his­toric south­east­ern city of Bam to dust and killed some 31,000 peo­ple. –

Sar­pol-e Za­hab was one of the hard­est-hit towns.

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