Iran-Iraq quake toll hits 530; survivors battle cold
Iran-Iraq quake toll hits 530; survivors battle cold
The grim work began in earnest again at dawn in the Kurdish town of Sarpol-e-Zahab in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, which appears to be the hardest hit in the magnitude 7.3 earthquake.
Kermanshah, an almost entirely Kurdish province nestled in the Zagros Mountains that run along the border with Iraq, suffered all of Iran’s fatalities from the temblor Sunday night that shook 14 of the country’s 31 provinces.
Both rescuers and local residents alike stood atop the remains of apartment complexes Tuesday, looking through the rubble. They used heavy blankets to carry away corpses.
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.
The quake also damaged an army garrison and buildings in the border city and killed an unspecified number of soldiers, according to reports.
There are fears more dead could be in the rubble in Sarpol-e-Zahab and other rural villages of Kermanshah province. Mohammad Ali Monshizadeh, a spokesman for the provincial forensic department, said possibly as many as 150 people were buried by family members after the earthquake in remote villages who had not been counted in the official death toll, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.
Iran’s Red Crescent also said it worried about more bodies in rural villages, though it said the rescue operations in larger towns could end soon.
President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Kermanshah province on Tuesday to see the damage for himself and offer his support to those affected.
“This was a pain for all Iranians,” Rouhani said, according to a statement on the presidency’s website. “Representing the nation of Iran, I offer my condolences to the people of Kermanshah, and tell them that all of us are behind Kermanshah.”
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.
The quake killed 530 people in Iran and injured 7,460, the state-run IRNA news agency reported Tuesday. Most of the injuries were minor with fewer than 1,000 still hospitalized, Iran’s crisis management headquarters spokesman Behnam Saeedi told state TV.
The quake was centered about 31km outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the US Geological Survey, and struck 23.2km below the surface, a somewhat shallow depth that can cause broader damage. The quake caused Dubai’s skyscrapers to sway and could be felt 1,060 km away on the Mediterranean coast.
Seven deaths occurred in Iraq and 535 people were injured, all in the country’s northern, semiautonomous Kurdish region, according to its Interior Ministry.
The disparity in casualty tolls immediately drew questions from Iranians, especially because so much of the town was new.
Sarpol-e-Zahab fell to the troops of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during his 1980 invasion of Iran, which sparked the eight-year war between the two countries that killed 1 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 cheap construction.
Under the plan dubbed as Mehr or “kindness” in Farsi, some 2 million units were built in Iran, including hundreds in Sarpol-e Zahab. Many criticized the plan, warning that the low-quality construction could lead to a disaster.
“Before its 10-year anniversary, Mehr buildings have turned into coffins for its inhabitants,” the reformist Fararu news website wrote Monday.
Rouhani himself said the government would launch an investigation into why the state-constructed buildings so easily toppled.
“The faults and shortcomings in the construction of these buildings should be investigated,” he said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. The “government will definitely follow up on these issues and identify the culprits.”
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. In 2012, a major casualty earthquake killed over 300.
Israeli planes strike Hamas targets in Gaza
- The attacks targeted two Hamas military sites and a munitions manufacturing site
- “Fire balloons” and kites carrying flammable material have become symbols of the Palestinian border protests in recent months
JERUSALEM: Israeli warplanes on Monday conducted strikes against nine Hamas “military targets” in the northern Gaza Strip in response to incendiary kites being sent into Israeli territory, the army said.
The attacks targeted two Hamas military sites and a munitions manufacturing site, the military said in a statement, without specifying whether the raids had resulted in casualties.
“Fire balloons” and kites carrying flammable material have become symbols of the Palestinian border protests in recent months.
The Israeli army on Saturday wounded two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attempting to launch incendiary balloons across the border into Israel, officials said.
Since major border protests broke out at the end of March, more than 300 fires have devastated several thousand hectares of fields and shrubland, the Israeli fire service has said.
According to Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, 400 kites have been intercepted from some 600 launched since the start of the recent protests.
At least 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire in the same time span. No Israelis have been killed.
Palestinians are calling to return to the homes their families fled or were forced from in 1948 during the war surrounding the creation of Israel.
The Gaza Strip is controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas which Israel considers its chief enemy.
The two sides have fought three wars since 2008 and observe a tense cease-fire.