Death toll at 530; Tehran to probe state-built homes

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Nasser Karimi and Mo­ham­mad Nasiri Nasser Karimi and Mo­ham­mad Nasiri are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

SAR­POL-E-ZA­HAB, Iran — Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Hassan Rouhani or­dered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion Tues­day into why govern­ment hous­ing built by his hard-line pre­de­ces­sor col­lapsed while oth­ers with­stood a pow­er­ful 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 mag­ni­tude 7.3 earth­quake Sun­day night. 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 an­grily showed 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.

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.

Both 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 badly 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 IRNA news agency re­ported. Health Min­is­ter Hassan Ghaz­izadeh Hashemi, who vis­ited Ker­man­shah on Tues­day, warned that the death toll prob­a­bly would rise.

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.”

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 some­what 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 15,000 oth­ers.

Vahid Salemi / As­so­ci­ated Press

Res­cuers search for sur­vivors in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab in the bor­der re­gion of Iran and Iraq. The town is home to more than half of those killed by the 7.3 mag­ni­tude earth­quake.

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