Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front page - By Nasser Karimi and Amir Vah­dat

Per­son­nel con­duct search and res­cue work fol­low­ing a 7.3 mag­ni­tude earth­quake Mon­day at Sarpol-e Zahab in Iran’s Ker­man­shah prov­ince. At least 400 peo­ple were killed and 1,600 in­jured when the earth­quake shook the moun­tain­ous Iran-Iraq bor­der, trig­ger­ing land­slides that were hin­der­ing res­cue ef­forts, of­fi­cials said. Read more on

TEHRAN, Iran — Res­cuers dug with their bare hands Mon­day through the de­bris of build­ings brought down by a pow­er­ful earth­quake that killed more than 400 peo­ple in the once-con­tested moun­tain­ous bor­der re­gion be­tween Iraq and Iran, with nearly all of the vic­tims in an area re­built since the end of the ru­inous 1980s war.

Sun­day night’s mag­ni­tude 7.3 earth­quake struck about 19 miles out­side the east­ern Iraqi city of Hal­abja, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent mea­sure­ments from the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey. It hit at 9:48 p.m. Iran time, just as peo­ple were go­ing to bed.

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.

Res­i­dents fled into the streets as the quake struck, with­out time to grab their pos­ses­sions, as apart­ment com­plexes col­lapsed into rub­ble. Out­side walls of some com­plexes were sheared off by the quake, power and wa­ter lines were sev­ered, and tele­phone ser­vice was dis­rupted.

Res­i­dents dug fran­ti­cally through wrecked build­ings for sur­vivors as they wailed. Fire­fight­ers from Tehran joined other res­cuers in the desperate search, us­ing dogs to in­spect the rub­ble.

The hos­pi­tal in Sarpol-eZa­hab was heav­ily dam­aged, and the army set up field hos­pi­tals, al­though many of the in­jured were moved to other cities, in­clud­ing Tehran.

It also dam­aged an army gar­ri­son and build­ings in the bor­der city and killed an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of sol­diers, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei im­me­di­ately dis­patched all gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary forces to aid those af­fected.

The newly home­less slept out­side in cold, hud­dled around makeshift fires for warmth, wrapped in blan­kets — as were the dead.

The quake killed 407 peo­ple in Iran and in­jured 7,156 oth­ers, Iran’s cri­sis man­age­ment head­quar­ters spokesman Behnam Saeedi told state TV. Most of the in­juries were mi­nor, he said, with fewer than 1,000 still hos­pi­tal­ized.

The semi-of­fi­cial Tas­nim news agency re­ported 445 dead and 7,370 in­jured. There was no im­me­di­ate ex­pla­na­tion of the dis­crep­ancy, al­though dou­ble­count­ing of vic­tims is com­mon dur­ing such dis­as­ters in Iran.

The of­fi­cial death toll came from pro­vin­cial foren­sic au­thor­i­ties based on death cer­tifi­cates is­sued. Some re­ports said au­thor­i­ties have warned that unau­tho­rized buri­als with­out cer­ti­fi­ca­tion could mean the death toll was ac­tu­ally higher.

In Iraq, the earth­quake killed at least seven peo­ple and in­jured 535 oth­ers, all in the coun­try’s north­ern, semi­au­tonomous Kur­dish re­gion, ac­cord­ing to its In­te­rior Min­istry.

The dis­par­ity in the fa­tal­ity fig­ures im­me­di­ately drew ques­tions from Ira­ni­ans, es­pe­cially be­cause so much of the town was new.

The earth­quake struck 14.4 miles be­low the sur­face, a shal­low depth that can have broader dam­age. Mag­ni­tude 7 earth­quakes on their own are ca­pa­ble of wide­spread, heavy dam­age.

The quake caused Dubai’s sky­scrapers to sway and could be felt 660 miles away on the Mediter­ranean coast. Nearly 120 af­ter­shocks fol­lowed.

Kokab Fard, a 49-year-old house­wife in Sarpol-eZa­hab, said she could only flee empty-handed when her apart­ment com­plex col­lapsed.

“Im­me­di­ately af­ter I man­aged to get out, the build­ing col­lapsed,” Ms. Fard said. “I have no ac­cess to my be­long­ings.”

Reza Mo­ham­madi, 51, said he and his fam­ily ran into the al­ley fol­low­ing the first shock.

“I tried to get back to pick some stuff, but it to­tally col­lapsed in the sec­ond wave,” Mr. Mo­ham­madi said.

Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei of­fered his con­do­lences as Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani’s of­fice said Iran’s elected leader would tour the dam­aged ar­eas Tues­day, which was de­clared a na­tional day of mourn­ing. Au­thor­i­ties also set up re­lief camps and hun­dreds lined up to donate blood in Tehran, though some on state TV com­plained about the slow­ness of aid com­ing.

In Iraq, the quake shook build­ings from Ir­bil to the cap­i­tal of Bagh­dad, where peo­ple fled into the streets.

Iraqi seis­mol­o­gist Ab­dulKarim Ab­dul­lah Taqi, who runs the earth­quake mon­i­tor­ing group at the state-run Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment, said the main rea­son for the lower ca­su­alty fig­ure in Iraq was the an­gle and di­rec­tion of the fault line in this par­tic­u­lar quake, as well as the na­ture of the Iraqi ge­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tions that could bet­ter ab­sorb the shocks.

Iran sits on many ma­jor fault lines and is prone to near-daily quakes. In 2003, a mag­ni­tude 6.6 earth­quake flat­tened the his­toric city of Bam, killing 26,000 peo­ple. The last ma­jor ca­su­alty earth­quake in Iran struck in East Azer­bai­jan prov­ince in Au­gust 2012, killing over 300.

Pouria Pak­izeh/AFP/Getty Images

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