Tehran opens probe into hous­ing col­lapse

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Nasser Karimi and Mo­ham­mad Nasiri As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

VAHID SALEMI / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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