Struc­tural skep­ti­cism in Iran

Quake razes gov­ern­ment-built site, not other struc­tures

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - NASSER KARIMI AND MO­HAM­MAD NASIRI In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Jon Gam­brell of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

An earth­quake sur­vivor sits Tues­day in rub­ble in front of her home in the Mehr, or “kind­ness,” com­pound built by the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab near the Iraq bor­der. Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion Tues­day into why gov­ern­ment hous­ing built by his pre­de­ces­sor col­lapsed while other build­ings with­stood the earth­quake that struck Sun­day night.

SAR­POL-E-ZA­HAB, Iran — Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani be­gan an in­ves­ti­ga­tion Tues­day into why gov­ern­ment hous­ing built by his hard-line pre­de­ces­sor col­lapsed while oth­ers with­stood a mag­ni­tude 7.3 earth­quake near the bor­der with Iraq that killed more than 530 peo­ple.

In the Kur­dish town of Sar­pol-e-Za­hab, which was re­con­structed in the decades since the 1980s war with Iraq, the outer walls of apart­ment com­plexes tum­bled away in the Sun­day night quake. The hous­ing was built as a part of the “Mehr” or “kind­ness” project of for­mer Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad.

Some now-home­less sur­vivors sim­ply wept out­side, while oth­ers showed As­so­ci­ated Press jour­nal­ists the de­struc­tion done by the quake.

“Other build­ings near our apart­ment are not dam­aged as much be­cause they were built pri­vately,” said Fer­dows Shah­bazi, 42, who lived in one of the Mehr build­ings.

She sar­cas­ti­cally added: “This is ‘kind­ness’ as the name sug­gests very well!”

Res­cuers used back­hoes and other heavy equip­ment to dig through top­pled build­ings in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab, home to more than half of the dead. The apart­ment com­plexes sit next to lush pas­tures in the al­most en­tirely Kur­dish prov­ince of Ker­man­shah, nes­tled in the Za­gros Moun­tains along the bor­der with Iraq.

Res­cuers and res­i­dents stood on the re­mains of homes, look­ing through the rub­ble. Searchers used dogs to comb the de­bris — just as they have since Iran’s 2003 earth­quake in Bam that killed 26,000 peo­ple — al­though some cler­ics in­sist the an­i­mals are un­clean.

The quake se­verely dam­aged the Sar­pol-e-Za­hab hos­pi­tal, forc­ing the army to set up field clin­ics. The quake also re­port­edly killed an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of sol­diers in an army gar­ri­son.

Aside from the 530 peo­ple killed in Iran, 7,817 were in­jured, the state-run Is­lamic Repub­lic News Agency re­ported. Health Min­is­ter Has­san Ghaz­izadeh Hashemi, who vis­ited Ker­man­shah on Tues­day, warned that the death toll prob­a­bly would rise.

“My feel­ing is that num­ber … will in­crease since vic­tims were buried in many vil­lages that their ex­act statis­tics will be an­nounced in com­ing days,” he said, ac­cord­ing to the semiof­fi­cial Ira­nian Stu­dents News Agency.

Rouhani in­spected the dam­age in the prov­ince and of­fered his sup­port.

“This was a pain for all Ira­ni­ans,” he said. “Rep­re­sent­ing the na­tion of Iran, I of­fer my con­do­lences to the peo­ple of Ker­man­shah, and tell them that all of us are be­hind Ker­man­shah.”

For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif thanked for­eign coun­tries of­fer­ing to help but wrote on Twit­ter: “For now, we are able to man­age with our own re­sources.”

Also tour­ing the area was cleric Ab­dol­hos­sein Moezi, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei. Moezi said there was a need for more re­lief ma­te­rial and “se­cu­rity.”

That was echoed by Nazar Barani, the mayor of the town of Ezgeleh, who said on state TV that his con­stituency still had a “deep need” for food, medicine and tents. He said 80 per­cent of the build­ings in the town had been dam­aged.

The tem­blor hit about 19 miles out­side the east­ern Iraqi city of Hal­abja, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, and struck 14.4 miles be­low the sur­face, a rel­a­tively shal­low depth that can cause broader dam­age.

Nine peo­ple were killed in Iraq and 550 were in­jured, all in the coun­try’s north­ern, semi­au­tonomous Kur­dish re­gion, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

The dis­par­ity in ca­su­alty tolls has drawn ques­tions from Ira­ni­ans, es­pe­cially be­cause so much of Sar­pol-e-Za­hab was new. Ini­tial Ira­nian gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates sug­gest the quake de­stroyed 12,000 apart­ments and free-stand­ing homes, and dam­aged an­other 15,000.

Some im­me­di­ately pointed to the Mehr homes. About 2 mil­lion units were built in Iran, in­clud­ing scores in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab, as part of a pop­ulist pro­gram by Ah­madine­jad, who also of­fered cash pay­outs and other in­cen­tives to ap­pease the pub­lic while Iran faced crip­pling eco­nomic sanc­tions over its nu­clear pro­gram.

But af­ter the hous­ing was built, some didn’t have paved roads or wa­ter lead­ing to them. Many warned that the low-qual­ity con­struc­tion could be a prob­lem in Iran, which faces near-daily earth­quakes and sits on many ma­jor fault lines.

Ah­madine­jad’s of­fi­cial chan­nel on the mes­sag­ing app Tele­gram, which is pop­u­lar in Iran, called the ac­cu­sa­tions “me­dia slan­der” and said those who cir­cu­lated photos and videos of dam­aged Mehr homes were “clumsy char­la­tans.”

Ah­madine­jad ad­viser Ali Ak­bar Ja­van­fekr also wrote on a web­site for al­lies of the for­mer pres­i­dent: “Heavy waves of pro­pa­ganda against Mehr are aimed at cov­er­ing up the weak­ness and in­ef­fi­ciency of the [Rouhani] ad­min­is­tra­tion in help­ing quake-hit peo­ple.”

In May, a mag­ni­tude 5.7 quake in the north­east­ern city of Bo­j­nourd heav­ily dam­aged sim­i­lar Mehr projects there. Many still sit un­com­pleted across the coun­try be­cause the pro­gram ran out of cash.

Rouhani said in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab that the gov­ern­ment would look into what went wrong at the Mehr homes, some of which his ad­min­is­tra­tion handed over.

“The faults and short­com­ings in the con­struc­tion of these build­ings should be in­ves­ti­gated,” he said. “And the gov­ern­ment will surely fol­low up on these is­sues and iden­tify the cul­prits and in­tro­duce them to the peo­ple.”

Rouhani added: “We saw what hap­pened to the Mehr build­ings though even a sin­gle win­dow was not bro­ken in peo­ple’s pri­vately built homes.”

He promised cash pay­ments and loans to those af­fected so they can build new homes with con­trac­tors of their choice. He also urged lo­cal of­fi­cials to be gen­er­ous with dis­as­ter re­lief.

AP/VAHID SALEMI

AP/VAHID SALEMI

An earth­quake sur­vivor on Tues­day car­ries be­long­ings over de­bris at a gov­ern­ment hous­ing com­pound where she lived in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab, Iran.

AP/VAHID SALEMI

A woman weeps Tues­day as she sits in front of dam­aged build­ings in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab, Iran.

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