Tehran opens probe into housing collapse
SARPOL-E-ZAHAB, IRAN — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani launched 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.
Aside from the 530 people killed in Iran, 7,817 were injured, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.
The temblor hit about 19 miles outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja.
Nine people were killed in Iraq and 550 were injured, all in the country’s northern, semiautonomous Kurdish region.
The disparity in casualty tolls has drawn questions from Iranians, especially because so much of Sarpol-e-Zahab was new. Initial 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.
An earthquake survivor in Sarpol-e-Zahab, Iran, on Tuesday carries her belongings over debris in front of her house in a compound built under the state-run Mehr program. The quake destroyed about 12,000 apartments and houses.