A massive 7.3 magnitude earthquake near the Iran-Iraq border on Sunday night killed atleast 407 people and injured thousands more. More than 100 aftershocks followed. The epicentre of the quake was 19 miles (31 kilometres) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja and occurred at 9.48 pm local time on Sunday night, according to the US Geological Survey. It struck 23.2 kilometres (14.4 miles) below the surface and could be felt on the Mediterranean coast located some 660 miles (1,000 kilometres) away.
Kermanshah province in Iran was the worst affected where atleast 340 people lost their lives and about 6,500 were injured. In Iraq, the earthquake killed at least seven people and injured 535, all in the country’s northern Kurdish region, according to Iraq’s Interior Ministry. Following the deadly quake, Iran has declared three days of national mourning.
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”. Electricity, water lines have been disrupted in major parts on both sides of the border. Iran that usually has houses made of mud bricks crumbled under the pressure of the quake.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his condolences and urged the rescuers to extend help to those affected. President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to tour earthquake-damaged areas Tuesday. Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that he is closly monitoring the rescue operations. Al-Abadi in his written statement said, “God save Iraq and the Iraqi people.”
Residents advised to stay outside homes
Pictures shared on social media and local media houses show people fleeing their homes while few look through the rubble in search of their loved ones. Kokab Fard, a 49-year-old housewife in Sarpol-e-Zahab in Kermanshah in Iran, said she fled 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 out into the alley after the first shock. “I tried to get back to pick up some stuff but it totally collapsed in the second wave,” Mohammadi said. Locals have been advised to stay outside their homes and avoid building and elevators as a precautionary measure.
However, many locals also complained about delayed rescue efforts. “We need a shelter … ” a middle-aged man in Sarpol-e Zahab told state TV. “Where is the aid? Where is the help?” His family could not spend another night outside in cold weather, he said, as reported by Reuters. Amina Mohammed, who survived the quake in 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 who stopped the stairs from entirely collapsing on us.”
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. He said the Iraqi geological formations were better able to absorb the shocks.
Reactions and aids
Turkey has also dispatched emergency personnel and aid to northern Iraq. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country has taken immediate action to provide medical and food aid to northern Iraq. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country stands with the region in difficult times and wished the Iraqi and Iranian people a speedy recovery. 33 aid trucks were en route to Iraq’s city of Sulaimaniyah, carrying 3,000 tents and heaters, 10,000 beds and blankets as well as food, reports AP.
Italy has also decided to send 12 tons of tents, blankets, mobile kitchens among the other assistance to victims. The Foreign Ministry said that an Italian plane loaded with the aid would be leaving the UN’s regional emergency warehouse in the coming hours. Separately, the ministry said it was working on a financial aid package for Iran to be funneled through the Red Crescent, which is working on the ground.
PM Narendra Modi who is on a three-day trip to attend the ASEAN Summit in Manila tweeted, “My thoughts are with all those who have lost their loved ones in the tragic earthquake that has affected parts of Iran and Iraq. I pray that those injured recover at the earliest,” Pakistan government has also extended condolences over the tragedy. Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif says the Pakistanis’ “thoughts and prayers are with the Iranian and Iraqi brothers who lost their lives in this tragic calamity and we pray for the speedy recovery of the injured.”
Pope Francis also offered his condolences to those affected by the quake. The notes said Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the disaster and offered his solidarity to those who had lost loved ones. “Upon the injured and the emergency and civil authorities engaged in rescue and recovery efforts, His Holiness invokes the divine blessings of consolation and strength,” he added.
Iran lies on dozens of fault lines and is prone to quakes. In 2012, 300 people were killed after a quake struck the East Azerbaijan province of Iran. Another quake in 2003 flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people.
(With inputs from AP)