Search­ing for sur­vivors of Iran-Iraq quake

Sun­day’s tem­blor killed 450 peo­ple and in­jured thou­sands in re­gion that is home to many Kurds

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION & WORLD - By Thomas Erdbrink MOSLEH PIRKHEZRANIAN/IS­LAMIC REPUB­LIC NEWS AGENCY VIA AP

ITEHRAN, Iran ra­ni­ans dug through rub­ble in a fran­tic search for sur­vivors Mon­day, af­ter a pow­er­ful earth­quake struck near the Iraqi bor­der, killing more than 450 peo­ple and in­jur­ing thou­sands of oth­ers in the world’s dead­li­est earth­quake so far this year.

The quake, recorded at 9:18 p.m. Sun­day, was felt as far away as Turkey and Pak­istan. The epi­cen­ter was near Ezgeleh, Iran, about 135 miles north­east of Bagh­dad, and had a pre­lim­i­nary mag­ni­tude of 7.3, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey. Seis­mol­o­gists in the coun­try said it was the big­gest quake to hit the western part of Iran.

Pho­to­graphs from the re­gion — a patch­work of farms and home to many Kurds, a large eth­nic mi­nor­ity in Iran — posted on the in­ter­net showed col­lapsed build­ings, cars de­stroyed by rub­ble and peo­ple sleep­ing in the streets in fear of af­ter­shocks.

At least 445 peo­ple were killed and 7,370 peo­ple were in­jured in Iran, ac­cord­ing to the semiof­fi­cial Tasnim news agency, which gave an es­ti­mate sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the death toll of 407 that of­fi­cials had an­nounced ear­lier.

At least eight peo­ple were killed on the Iraqi side of the bor­der, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Saif al-Badir, a spokesman for the Health Min­istry, and at least 535 were hurt.

In Tehran, hun­dreds of peo­ple waited in line to do­nate blood in re­sponse to a call from the gov­ern­ment. Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, de­liv­ered a mes­sage of con­do­lence Mon­day, urg­ing res­cue work­ers to keep search­ing for sur­vivors. “The of­fi­cials should has­ten in these first hours with all their might and de­ter­mi­na­tion to help the in­jured, es­pe­cially those trapped under the rub­ble,” his of­fice re­ported.

By even­ing, how­ever, Ira­nian of­fi­cials said that the res­cue mis­sion was nearly over, ac­cord­ing to the state news me­dia.

Par­tic­u­larly hard hit was Pol-e Za­hab, a city in the western Ira­nian prov­ince of Ker­man­shah, ac­cord­ing to the semiof­fi­cial Ira­nian Stu­dents News Agency. The au­thor­i­ties said that at least 236 peo­ple had died in the city, which has a pop­u­la­tion of 30,000, and the main hos­pi­tal was be­lieved to be at least partly run­ning.

“My friend was scream­ing, say­ing, ‘I lost my home,’ ” one res­i­dent wrote on Twit­ter. “Thank God, she and her fam­ily are do­ing well. She said peo­ple were only mourn­ing, and their loved ones were under the rub­ble.”

One im­age from Pol-e Za­hab ap­peared to show the near-de­struc­tion of an apart­ment block re­cently built for low-in­come fam­i­lies. An­other, posted on the web­site Khabar On­line, showed a pickup truck trans­port­ing vic­tims under col­or­ful blan­kets.

Farhad Tarji, a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Pol-e Za­hab, told the semiof­fi­cial news agency ILNA that his fam­ily had been dev­as­tated by the quake. “I’ve lost 15 peo­ple,” he said. The Ira­nian gov­ern­ment news­pa­per posted a video on its web­site in which a res­i­dent of Pol-e Za­hab com­plained that no aid had come. “There has been no help yet, nei­ther food nor wa­ter, no cloth­ing, no tents, there is noth­ing,” said the res­i­dent, a man who ap­peared to be in his 30s, while stand­ing in a street with col­lapsed build­ings. “There are no fa­cil­i­ties yet. We’ve slept out­side since last night. This is the con­di­tion of our homes. Our elec­tric­ity, wa­ter, gas, phone lines are out, ev­ery­thing is com­pletely out, the whole city has been de­stroyed, it is wrecked.”

An im­age posted on so­cial me­dia showed sol­diers search­ing through the rub­ble at night with­out flash­lights or torches, us­ing their cell­phones for light.

Of­fi­cials from the Health Min­istry trav­eled to the area, as did the com­man­der in chief of the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards Corps, Brig. Gen. Mo­hammed Ali Ja­fari, but for­eign re­porters were not al­lowed to visit the scene, in a change from pre­vi­ous dis­as­ters.

The Ira­nian Red Cres­cent used res­cue dogs to search for sur­vivors, as it has since an earth­quake in the south­ern city of Bam in 2003 that killed more than 20,000 peo­ple. The coun­try’s re­li­gious lead­ers re­gard dogs as un­clean, but the use of guard and res­cue dogs is ac­cepted.

Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad, who was pres­i­dent of Iran from 2005 to 2013, in­tro­duced a pro­gram to build low-in­come hous­ing, in­clud­ing in Pol-e Za­hab. Af­ter the quake Sun­day, his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents said that many of the build­ings had been poorly con­structed, but his de­fend­ers said that the build­ings were on fault lines, and that noth­ing could have been done.

Ini­tial re­ports from the Kur­dish re­gion of Iraq in­di­cated less dam­age and fewer deaths on that side of the bor­der. In Su­laimaniyah, the sec­ond­largest city in Iraq’s Kur­dish re­gion, res­i­dents de­scribed feel­ing heavy tremors but said there was no no­table build­ing dam­age. Res­i­dents in the oil-rich town of Kirkuk, roughly 50 miles to the west, re­ported sim­i­lar dam­age.

Ali Namiq, a res­i­dent of the town Dar­bandikhan, Iraq, said a build­ing was flat­tened by the quake. “The build­ing fell on a seven-mem­ber fam­ily,” he told Reuters. “We man­aged to res­cue only five out of them, while the two oth­ers were killed. It was the first time for me to see an earth­quake. It is a di­vine act that no one can pre­vent.”

In the town of Kalar, Iraq, the quake sent items tum­bling from shelves in a su­per­mar­ket, caus­ing shop­pers to flee.

A woman mourns Mon­day as she holds the body of her daugh­ter, who died in an earth­quake, in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab, Iran.

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