Rescuers search for survivors after quake kills more than 400 in Iraq-Iran border region

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 31 kilometres outside the eastern Iraqi 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.

IRAQ-QUAKE/IRAN

A wounded woman lies on a bed as she is evacuated to safety Monday in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, Iran, following a magnitude 7.3 earthquake. (Tasnim News Agency/Reuters)

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 as they wailed. Firefighters from Tehran joined other rescuers in the desperate search, using dogs to inspect the rubble.

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.

Sleeping outside in the cold

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 407 people in Iran and about 7,000 others, two semi-official news agencies quoted Behnam Saeedi, a spokesperson for the country’s crisis management headquarters, as saying.

The number came from the provincial forensic department based on death certificates issued. Some reports said authorities warned that unauthorized burials without certification could mean the death toll was higher.

In Iraq, the earthquake killed at least seven people and injured 535 others, all in the country’s northern, semi-autonomous Kurdish region, according to its Interior Ministry.

CBC Iran Iraq earthquake map November 13 2017

(CBC)

The disparity in the fatality figures immediately drew questions from Iranians, especially because so much of the town was new.

The earthquake struck 23.2 kilometres below the surface, a shallow depth that can have broader damage. Magnitude 7 earthquakes on their own are capable of widespread, heavy damage.

Quake felt 1,000 km away

The quake caused Dubai’s skyscrapers to sway and could be felt 1,060 kilometres 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,” Fard said. “I have no access to my belongings.”

Reza Mohammadi, 51, said 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 in the second wave,” Mohammadi said.

IRAQ-QUAKE/IRAN

This building in Darbandikhan in Sulaimaniya Governorate, Iraq, collapsed during the earthquake. While a handful of people died in Iraq, the number of casualties on the Iranian side of the border was far higher. (Ako Rasheed/Reuters)

Khamenei offered his condolences as President Hassan Rouhani’s office said Iran’s elected leader would tour the damaged areas Tuesday. Authorities also set up relief camps and hundreds lined up to donate blood in Tehran, though some on state television 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 one 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 the Holocaust-questioning hard-liner’s populist credentials but also saw homes cheaply constructed.

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

AFP_U816R

Iranians mourn one of the earthquake victims in the western province of Kermanshah. (Farzad Menati/AFP/Getty Images)

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

Fleeing into the streets

In Iraq, the quake shook buildings from Erbil to Baghdad, where people fled into the streets of the capital.

Iraqi seismologist Abdul-Karim Abdullah Taqi, who runs the earthquake monitoring group at the state-run Meteorological Department, said the main reason for the lower casualty figure in Iraq was the angle and the direction of the fault line in this particular quake, as well as the nature of the Iraqi geological formations that could better absorb the shocks.

Amina Mohammed of Darbandikhan, Iraq, said she and her sons escaped their home as it collapsed around them.

“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, about 10 kilometres from the Iranian border.

AFP_U79XM

This earthquake victim, brought to Sulaimaniyah Hospital on Sunday in Iraq, is among thousands who were injured. (Shwan Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images)

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

“There are horizontal and vertical 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.

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

earthquake iran

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centred 31 kilometres outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja. (U.S. Geological Survey)

Kerem Kinik, the Turkish Red Crescent’s vice-president, told The Associated Press from the Habur border crossing 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.

Relations between Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region and Turkey were strained following the Iraqi Kurds’ September independence referendum.

Trudeau offers sympathies

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is in Manila for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, expressed his condolences on Twitter.

“Canadians offer their deepest sympathies to the families affected by the earthquake in the region.” he said.

Pakistan’s government similarly extended condolences for the loss of life and injuries suffered by “our Iranian and Iraqi brethren.”

Pope Francis offered prayers for the dead and urged strength to rescue crews looking for survivors.

Iran sits on many major fault lines and is prone to near-daily quakes. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people. The last major casualty earthquake in Iran struck in East Azerbaijan province in August 2012, killing over 300 people.

Link.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *