Tehran, Nov 14 – Iranian authorities say rescue operations have ended in areas hit by a powerful earthquake near the border with Iraq that killed at least 450 people and injured more than 7,000 others.
The magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck villages and towns in the mountainous area of Kermanshah province on Sunday night (local time) while many people were at home asleep.
Television showed footage of rescue workers frantically combing through the rubble of dozens of villages immediately after the quake.
But authorities say it is highly unlikely anyone else will be found alive.
“The rescue operations in the [western] Kermanshah province have ended,” Pir-Hossein Kolivand, head of Iran’s Emergency Medical Services, said on state TV.
Iranian officials said more than 450 people were killed and some 7,156 were injured when the earthquake jolted the country, affecting at least 14 provinces in Iran.
Local officials expect the death toll to climb as teams reach remote areas.
State television said thousands were huddling in makeshift camps while many others spent a second night in the open for fear of more tremors to come after some 193 aftershocks.
A homeless young woman in Sarpol-e Zahab, one of the hardest-hit towns, told state TV that her family was exposed to the night chill because of lack of tents.
More than 70,000 people needed emergency shelter, the head of Iranian Red Crescent said.
On Sunday night, Iranian police, the elite Revolutionary Guards and its affiliated Basij militia forces, were dispatched to affected areas. President Hassan Rouhani will visit the area today.
Across the border, there was still no word from Iraqi Kurdistan on whether their rescue missions were ongoing.
Questions over disparity in tolls between Iran, Iraq
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.
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 direction of the fault line in this particular quake.
Tempers frayed in the quake-hit area as the search went on for survivors amidst the twisted rubble of collapsed buildings.
“We need a shelter,” a middle-aged man in Sarpol-e Zahab told state TV.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei immediately dispatched all government and military forces to aid those affected.
The newly homeless slept outside in cold, huddled around makeshift fires for warmth, wrapped in blankets — as were the dead.
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.
Reza Mohammadi, 51, said he and his family ran into an alley following the first shock.
“I tried to get back to pick some stuff, but it totally collapsed in the second wave,” Mr Mohammadi said.
Ayatollah Khamenei offered his condolences as President Hassan Rouhani’s office said Iran’s elected leader would tour the damaged areas on 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.
The quake caused Dubai’s skyscrapers to sway and could be felt more than 1,000 kilometres away on the Mediterranean coast. Nearly 120 aftershocks followed.