Iran hunts for survivors as quake kills over 300 near Iraq border
TEHRAN — Iranian rescue workers dug through rubble in a hunt for survivors yesterday after a major earthquake struck the Iran-Iraq border, killing more than 300 and injuring thousands.
The 7.3-magnitude quake hit a border area 30km southwest of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan at around 21:20 on November 12, when many people would have been at home, the US Geological Survey said.
The worst affected areas were in Iran’s western province of Kermanshah, where the coroner’s office told state television that at least 328 people were dead and another 2 350 injured.
Across the border in Iraq, where the areas are more sparsely populated, the health ministry said eight people had died and several hundred been injured.
Some Iranians spent the night outdoors after fleeing their homes in the mountainous cross-border region, huddling around fires at dawn as the authorities deployed help to affected areas.
A woman and her baby were pulled out alive from the rubble in the Iranian town of Sar-e Pol-e Zaham, the worst hit in the quake, local media reported.
Officials said they were setting up relief camps but that access to the areas was not easy.
Iran’s emergency services chief Pir Hossein Koolivand said it was “difficult to send rescue teams to the villages because the roads have been cut off . . . there have been landslides”. UNITED NATIONS — UN-backed peacekeepers have lost enough guns and ammunition in sub-Saharan Africa over the past two decades to arm an army, according to a study by the Small Arms Survey.
The research group’s director, Eric Berman, said peacekeepers have lost “at least thousands of weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition” this century, often handing them over to local fighters without putting up a fight. Losses range from pistols and bullets to heavy machine guns, mortars, recoilless guns and grenade launchers, which can be military game-changers on the battlefields of Somalia, Democratic republic of Congo, and Sudan, Berman said.
“Peacekeepers are losing arms and ammunition that are going to be used against them and against civilians that they’re asked to protect, and prolonging conflicts that they’re asked to help resolve,” Berman said.
The 75-page study, called Making a Tough Job More Difficult, identifies 20 forces operating under the UN, the African Union or some other international coalition that have lost guns and ammunition from 1993-2017.
Most losses occurred in Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Mali and the Central African Republic.
Haiti, Cambodia, the Israel-Syria border and the Balkans have also been affected. Some losses were unavoidable, the report said. Peacekeepers can be ambushed while patrolling the “wrong place at the wrong time” or be overwhelmed in a surprise attack from a superior force and have caches plundered, Berman said. But incidents of “less-than-best practice and corruption” are also rife, Berman added.
There have been many hushed-up cases of peacekeepers handing over weapons to rebels rather than risk a shootout, of failing to guard caches properly, or uncovering rebel groups’ arsenals and selling them on the black market, said Berman.
Aditya Mehta, a UN peacekeeping spokesman, told Al Jazeera that it takes the issue “very seriously” but said the Small Arms Survey report overstated the impact of blue helmet arms losses on turbulent parts of Africa. “The loss of weapons in peacekeeping operations are an exception, and the number of weapons lost are insignificant, far less than half of one per cent of the total amount of weapons and ammunition in circulation around conflict zones such as in Darfur and South Sudan,” he said.
Losses occur in “very challenging conditions”, and the UN already works hard to raise standards, he added. Mehta did not fulfil Al Jazeera’s request to share the UN’s register of arms that had gone missing in recent years. The Small Arms Survey report listed many examples of losses.
In May 2000, Zambian peacekeepers lost more than 500 assault rifles, machine guns, mortars and 45 000 rounds of ammunition when they surrendered to Sierra Leonean rebels rather than “fight their way out” Berman said.
A Nigerian peacekeeping convoy similarly succumbed to a “not overwhelming force” of rebels in in Darfur, Sudan, in March 2010, handing over 55 assault rifles, machine guns and some 14 000 rounds of ammunition, he added. Details on such incidents are unclear, Berman said. According to the report, “political sensitivities and opacity in reporting have resulted in misleading” reports of arms losses in official UN documents. — AFP
The official IRNA news agency said 30 Red Cross teams had been sent to the quake zone, parts of which had experienced power cuts.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the government and armed forces to mobilise “all their means” to help the population.
Local media reported hundreds of ambulances and dozens of army helicopters mobilised for rescue operations including in rural areas.
Sar-e Pol-e Zahab, an area of some 85 000 people close to the border, was the worst hit, with at least 236 dead, while the towns of Eslamabad and Qasr-e Shirin were also affected.
Some 259 000 people live in the areas around these towns, according to the latest population census.
State television footage showed tents, blankets, and food being distributed in areas hit by the quake.
At dawn yesterday in Sar-e Pol-e Zahab, buildings stood disfigured, their former facades lying in rubble on crumpled vehicles.
In an open space away from the wrecked housing blocks, men and women, some wrapped in blankets, huddled around a camp fire to keep warm.
In Iraq, the health ministry said the quake had killed seven people in the northern province of Sulaimaniyah and one in the province of Diyala to its south.
More than 500 people were injured in both provinces and the nearby province of Kirkuk. JOHANNESBURG — One person has been arrested after a group of church congregants overpowered, assaulted and disarmed a Johannesburg Metro Police Department officer.
The attack took place on Sunday just before midday, JMPD spokesperson chief superintendent Wayne Minaar said.
He said the officer and his colleague towed an illegally parked car — causing traffic congestion — that belonged to a member of a church on Claim Street in Hillbrow.
“From interim investigations, it is believed that the JMPD officer drew his firearm and fired into the air to stop the rioting congregants from advancing toward them, but the crowd did not heed the warning but proceeded to attack the officer.”
Footage posted on Twitter showed panicked people fleeing a building in Sulaimaniyah, as windows shattered at the moment the quake struck, while images from the nearby town of Darbandikhan showed walls and concrete structures had collapsed.
In Darbandikhan, officials called on residents to sleep outside their homes as a precautionary measure.
In Sulaimaniyah, residents ran out onto the streets and some damage to property was reported, an AFP reporter there said.
The quake, which struck at a relatively shallow depth of 23km, was felt for about 20 seconds in Baghdad, and for longer in other provinces of Iraq, AFP journalists said. Iraqi health authorities said they treated dozens of people in its aftermath, most for shock. The area sees frequent seismic activity. In 1990, a 7.4-magnitude quake near the Caspian Sea in northern Iran killed 40 000 people and left 300 000 more injured and half a million homeless. Within seconds the quake reduced dozens of towns and nearly 2 000 villages to rubble.
Thirteen years later, a catastrophic quake struck the ancient southeast Iranian city of Bam, famed for its mud brick buildings, killing at least 31 000 people and flattening swathes of the city.
Since then, Iran has experienced at least two major quake disasters, one in 2005 that killed more than 600 and another in 2012 that left some 300 dead. — AFP
UN peacekeeping arms losses could equip an army: Report
Minaar said the group overpowered and disarmed the officer “who was beaten and left unconscious and had to be rushed to Milpark Hospital”.
An arrest was made when the assailants went to hand in the officer’s firearm at Johannesburg Central Police Station, he said.
“Upon arrival at the station, one member of the congregation was detained by the [police] for illegally being in possession of a JMPD officer’s firearm.”
Public Safety Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) Michael Sun condemned the attack saying officers were doing their job and executing the city’s by-laws. “We will not allow this attack on our metro police go unprosecuted, the culprits will have to face the full might of the law,” Sun said.
The second officer was not injured. — Sapa
Residents gather near a damaged building following an earthquake in the town of Darbandikhan, near the city of Sulaimaniyah, in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, Iraq yesterday. Al Jazeera