Hundreds killed in Iran-Iraq quake
Iranian rescue workers were digging through rubble in a hunt for survivors yesterday after a major earthquake struck the Iran-Iraq border, killing more than 400 people and injuring thousands of others.
The 7.3-magnitude quake hit a border area 30 kilometers southwest of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan around 9:20pm on Sunday, when many people would have been at home, the US Geological Survey said.
State television said at least 407 people were killed in Iran’s deadliest earthquake in more than a decade and at least 6,600 were injured. Local officials said the death toll would rise as search and rescue teams reached remote areas of Iran.
The earthquake was felt in several western provinces of Iran, but the hardest hit province was Kermanshah, which announced three days of mourning. More than 300 of the victims were in Sar-e Pol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, about 15km from the Iraq border.
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 authorities deployed help to affected areas.
A woman and her baby were pulled out alive from the rubble in Sar-e Pol-e Zahab, 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.”
The official IRNA news agency said 30 Red Cross teams had been sent to the quake zone, parts of which had power cuts.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the government and armed forces to mobilize “all their means.”
Local media reported hundreds of ambulances and dozens of army helicopters mobilized for rescue operations, including in rural areas.
State television footage showed tents, blankets, and food being distributed in quake-hit areas.
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.
Footage posted online showed panicked people fleeing a building in Sulaimaniyah, as windows shattered at the moment the quake struck.
Images from the nearby town of Darbandikhan showed walls and concrete structures had collapsed.
Officials told 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, a reporter there said.
Rekot Rachid, health minister for the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, said that in Sulaimaniyah four people were killed in the town of Darbandikhan, two in Karmiyan and another in the provincial capital.
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, reporters said.
Iraqi health authorities said they treated dozens of people in its aftermath, most for shock.
On the Iranian side of the border, the quake shook several cities in the west of the country, including the city of Tabriz.
It was also felt in southeastern Turkey, a reporter there said.
In the town of Diyarbakir, residents were said to have fled their homes.
The earthquake struck along a 1,500km fault line between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates, a belt extending through western Iran and into northeastern Iraq.
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 had 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 earthquake disasters, one in 2005 that killed more than 600 people and another just five years ago that left some 300 dead.
More recently, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake near Iran’s border with Turkmenistan in May killed two people, injured hundreds and caused widespread damage.