Hundreds dead after earthquake on border with Iran, Iraq.
7.3 magnitude temblor felt 660 miles away
TEHRAN | 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 once-contested 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 night’s magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck about 19 miles outside the eastern Iraqi Kurdish city of Halabja, according to the most recent measurements from the U.S. Geological Survey. It hit at 9:48 p.m. Iran time, just as people were going to bed.
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.
The hospital in Sarpol-e-Zahab 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-e-Zahab were part of construction projects under former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The newly homeless slept outside in cold, huddled around makeshift fires for warmth, wrapped in blankets — as were the dead.
The quake killed at least 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 still hospitalized.
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 earthquake struck 14.4 miles below the surface, a shallow depth that can produce broader damage. Magnitude 7 earthquakes on their own are capable of widespread, heavy 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 she could only flee empty-handed when her apartment complex collapsed.
“Immediately after I managed to get out, the building collapsed,” Ms. Fard said. “I have no access to my belongings.”
Ayatollah Khamenei offered his condolences as President Hassan Rouhani’s office said he would tour the damaged areas Tuesday, already declared a national day of mourning. Authorities also set up relief camps and hundreds lined up to donate blood in Tehran, though some on state TV complained about the slowness of aid coming.
Sarpol-e-Zahab fell to the Iraqi troops of dictator 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 Mr. Ahmadinejad’s low-income housing project, which aided the hard-liner’s populist credentials but also led to cheap construction standards.
Earthquakes have proven in the past to be political events as well, either harming the national government if the response is seen as inadequate, or opening the way for previously hostile neighbors to forge new links.
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.
Relations between Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region and Turkey were strained following the Iraqi Kurds’ September independence referendum.
Pakistan also extended condolences for the loss of life and injuries suffered by “our Iranian and Iraqi brethren.”
People sit on the rubble of a destroyed home after an earthquake in the city of Darbandikhan, Iraq, on Monday. Authorities reported that a powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Iraq-Iran border and killed more than 400 people in both countries.