Tragedy leaves trail of death and destruction
DARBANDIKHAN: Nizar Abdullah spent the night sifting through the ruins of the two-story house next door in the mountainous town of Darbandikhan in Iraqi Kurdistan after a killer quake hit the region.
“There were eight people inside,” Abdullah, an Iraqi Kurd, said on Monday, outside the pile of concrete debris where the house once stood.
Some family members managed to escape, but “neighbors and rescue workers pulled out the mother and one of the children dead from the rubble,” said the 34-year-old.
The 7.3-magnitude quake hit on the Iraq-Iran border area on Sunday night, killing hundreds of people and injuring thousands of others.
The quake hit a border area 30 km southwest of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan at around 9:20 p.m. (18:20 GMT), the US Geological Survey said.
Most people were at home when the quake struck.
“All at once the electricity went out and I felt a strong tremor,” said Loqman Hussein.
“I immediately ran out of the house with my family,” he added.
Akram Wali, 50, said many families in Darbandikhan sought shelter with relatives outside of the town.
They fled as authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan called on the population in the southern area of the town to leave their homes, fearing that the Darbandikhan dam would burst.
The dam, which spans the Diyala River, is located in Sulaimaniyah province, where seven people were killed, including four in Darbandikhan. One person died in Diyala province.
Authorities in the Darbandikhan region, home to 40,000 people, say the dam has withstood the fury of the quake and did not suffer any major cracks.
Taha Mohammed, 65, has not heeded the call to leave Darbandikhan, even if the quake totally destroyed his house.
“We ran out and no one was injured,” said the man dressed in the traditional baggy pants of Iraqi Kurds, counting his blessings despite the tragedy.
Iraqi Health Ministry spokesman Seif Al-Nadr said that the quake injured 321 people in Iraqi Kurdistan, 170 others in Diyala province and 44 in the disputed northern province of Kirkuk.
Most of them were treated for shock, he said in a statement.
“The Iraqi government must help the victims,” said Yassin Qassem, whose house was badly damaged by the quake.
“We are Kurds but also Iraqis,” he added.
Sunday’s quake was also felt in southeastern Turkey. Ankara has sent humanitarian assistance to Iraq, including tents and blankets, as well as a medical team, a Turkish government spokesman said.
The worst damage appeared to be in the Kurdish town of Sarpol-e-Zahab in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq.
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 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 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.”