341 perish, thousands homeless in Iran earthquake near Iraqi border

Tehran/Baghdad, Nov 13 (IANS) At least 341 people were killed and thousands wounded when a devastating 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Iran in a region bordering Iraq, flattening hundreds of buildings and leaving a mass of people homeless. The death toll will rise further, officials warned on Monday.

The Sunday night quake occurred at a depth of 33.9 km and the tremors were felt in a wide area including Turkey, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Armenia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and as far as Pakistan, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

At least 5,953 people were injured in the earthquake. The majority of the casualties appeared to be centred in Iran’s Kermanshah province while seven people were killed in Iraq, officials said.

Any earthquake measuring over 7 on the Richter scale can cause widespread damage.

Thousands of Iranians spent the night digging through rubble in a frantic search for survivors. Videos and images from the town of Sarpol-e Zahab, located close to the border, showed partially collapsed buildings and residents wrapped in blankets on the streets.

Power cuts were reported in locations across western Iran that is home to some of the country’s poorest regions.

Some 30 aftershocks, including some of the magnitude-4.5, were felt in several Iranian provinces, including Kurdistan, Khuzestan, Hamedan, western and eastern Azerbaijan as well as capital Tehran.

Among the worst affected towns in Iran were Ghasr Shirin, Sarpul and Azgale although officials said that it was still difficult to evaluate the extent of the destruction in the remote mountainous areas where roads and telephone lines were damaged.

“There has been no help yet, neither food nor water, no clothing, no tents, there is nothing,” said an Iranian man who appeared to be in his 30s, standing on a street with collapsed buildings.

“There are no facilities. We’ve slept outside since last night. This is the condition of our homes. Our electricity, water, gas, phone lines are out, everything is completely out, the whole city has been destroyed, it is wrecked,” he said.

An image posted on social media showed Iranian soldiers searching through the rubble at night without flashlights or torches, using their cellphones for light.

Some relief camps were set up in Kermanshah and neighbouring provinces to accommodate the afflicted people.

On the Iraqi side, the most extensive damage was in the town of Darbandikhan in the Kurdistan Region. The Iraqi Health Ministry said 321 people had been wounded in the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, Vice-President Eshaq Janhangiri, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli and many other Iranian high-rank authorities issued messages expressing condolences to the bereaved over their loss.

They urged military and civilian help to be dispatched to quake victims.

Also, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard were reportedly travelling to the affected areas to help with rescue efforts, the semi state-run Tasnim news agency reported.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tweeted that he had told civil defense teams and health and aid agencies to do all that they could to provide assistance to those affected by the quake.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued condolence messages after the tragedy.

Iran is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, being crossed by several major fault lines that cover at least 90 per cent of the country. The deadliest quake in Iran’s modern history happened in June 1990.

That quake destroyed the northern cities of Rudbar, Manjil, and Lushan, along with hundreds of villages, killing an estimated 37,000 people.

An earthquake in the city of Bam in December 2003 killed 26,000 people.

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