Deadly quake

Toll in Iran and Iraq tops 400

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - By NASSER KARIMI and AMIR VAHDAT The As­so­ci­ated Press

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 on­ce­con­tested 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’s mag­ni­tude 7.3 earth­quake struck about 19 miles out­side the east­ern Iraqi city of Hal­abja, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey. It hit at 9:48 p.m. Iran time.

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. 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.

The quake 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.

Many of the heav­ily dam­aged com­plexes in Sar­pol-eZa­hab were part of con­struc­tion projects un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad. The newly home­less slept out­side in the cold, hud­dled around makeshift fires for warmth.

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 hos­pi­tal­ized.

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

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.

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-e-Za­hab, said that she could only flee empty-handed when her apart­ment com­plex col­lapsed.

“Im­me­di­ately af­ter I man­aged to get out, the build­ing col­lapsed,” Fard said.

Reza Mo­ham­madi, 51, said that 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,” Mo­ham­madi said.

Khamenei of­fered his con­do­lences as Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani’s of­fice said Iran’s elected leader would tour the dam­aged ar­eas today. Au­thor­i­ties also set up re­lief camps and hun­dreds lined up to do­nate blood in Tehran.

Sar­pol-e-Za­hab fell to the Iraqi troops of Sad­dam Hus­sein dur­ing his 1980 in­va­sion of Iran, which sparked the eight-year war be­tween the two coun­tries that killed 1 mil­lion peo­ple. Though clawed back by Iran seven months later, the area re­mained a war zone that suf­fered through Sad­dam’s mis­sile at­tacks and chem­i­cal weapons.

Af­ter the war, Iran be­gan re­build­ing the town. It also was part of Ah­madine­jad’s low-in­come hous­ing project, which aided his pop­ulist cre­den­tials but also saw cheap con­struc­tion.

Un­der the plan dubbed as mehr, or “kind­ness” in Farsi, some 2 mil­lion units were built in Iran, in­clud­ing hun­dreds in Sar­pol-e Za­hab. Many crit­i­cized the plan, warn­ing that the low-qual­ity con­struc­tion could lead to a dis­as­ter.

“Be­fore its 10-year an­niver­sary, mehr build­ings have turned into coffins for its in­hab­i­tants,” the re­formist Fararu news web­site wrote Mon­day.

In Iraq, the quake shook build­ings from Ir­bil to 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 that the main rea­son for the lower ca­su­alty fig­ure in Iraq was the an­gle and di­rec­tion of the fault line, as well as the na­ture of the Iraqi ge­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tions that could bet­ter ab­sorb the shocks.

Univer­sity of Colorado ge­o­log­i­cal sci­en­tist Roger Bil­ham said earth­quakes in the Za­gros range, where there are more than 20 dif­fer­ent faults, have killed more than 100,000 peo­ple in the last 1,000 years.

Be­cause there are so many earth­quakes in the re­gion, proper con­struc­tion is crit­i­cal, but it “doesn’t trickle down to the vil­lages,” Bil­ham said.

In Dar­bandikhan, Iraq, Amina Mo­hammed said that she and her sons es­caped their home as it col­lapsed.

“I think it was only God that saved us,” she said. “I screamed to God and it must have been him to stop the stairs from en­tirely col­laps­ing on us.”

Res­i­dents were clear­ing the rub­ble from the streets of Dar­bandikhan, near the Ira­nian bor­der.

The quake caused vis­i­ble dam­age to a dam at Dar­bandikhan that holds back the Diyala River.

“There are . . . cracks on the road and in the body of the dam and parts of the dam sank lower,” said Rah­man Hani, the di­rec­tor of the dam.

No dams were dam­aged in Iran, the govern­ment in Tehran said.

Hal­abja, clos­est to the epi­cen­ter, is no­to­ri­ous for the 1988 chem­i­cal at­tack in which Sad­dam killed some 5,000 peo­ple with mus­tard gas — the dead­li­est chem­i­cal weapons at­tack ever against civil­ians.

Tur­key dis­patched emergency aid to north­ern Iraq as of­fi­cials ex­pressed “deep sad­ness” at the dis­as­ter. Prime Min­is­ter Bi­nali Yildirim said his coun­try acted im­me­di­ately to pro­vide med­i­cal and food aid to north­ern Iraq.

Kerem Kinik, the Turk­ish Red Cres­cent’s vice pres­i­dent, said that 33 aid trucks were en route to Su­laimaniyah, Iraq, car­ry­ing 3,000 tents and heaters, 10,000 beds and blan­kets, as well as food.

AP photo

Sur­vivors sit in front of build­ings dam­aged by an earth­quake in Sar­pol-e-Za­hab, western Iran, on Mon­day. A pow­er­ful 7.3 mag­ni­tude earth­quake that struck the Iraq-Iran bor­der re­gion killed more than 400 peo­ple in the two coun­tries, sent peo­ple flee­ing their homes into the night and was felt as far west as the Mediter­ranean coast, au­thor­i­ties said.

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