In quake-hit Iranian village, 'people are helping people' as aid is slow to arrive

The residents of Quik Hasan village slept outdoors in the cold and awoke early Tuesday looking for help. Fifty people had died here in a massive earthquake two nights earlier and had been buried by their relatives in makeshift graves.

But when aid workers from the Iranian Red Crescent arrived, they distributed 30 tents — far too few in this agrarian village of 170 households.

“No state-run enterprise is helping. People are helping people,” said Ayasheh Karami, 60, standing amid the ruins of her house. A cousin sat crying on a carpet next to refrigerators, a potted plant, a lone wooden drawer and a few other possessions they had been able to drag outside.

Iran was struggling to deliver relief 48 hours after the worst earthquake to strike the country in more than a decade. State-run media reported that the death toll had increased to 530 people, with 7,460 injured, and officials said it could rise further as they slowly tally victims buried by family members in far-flung villages.

All the fatalities and the worst damage occurred here in Kermanshah, a vast but mostly empty western province that forms part of the country’s ethnically Kurdish region. The Red Crescent reported that 12,000 residential buildings had collapsed and more than 500 villages had been affected, with tens of thousands homeless.

The magnitude 7.3 earthquake, which struck near the mountainous Iran-Iraq border Sunday night, also killed 10 people in Iraq and wounded hundreds, officials said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited the hardest-hit city of Sarpol-e Zahab, near the Iraqi border, and pledged to personally oversee the rebuilding effort, which would include loans for housing construction.

“This was painful for all Iranians,” Rouhani said. “The government will accelerate this process so that it can be done in the shortest time possible.”

In Sarpol-e Zahab, home to about 50,000 people, walls at schools, shops and police stations had collapsed, and people slept on patches of grass outside their homes. Parks had become encampments dotted with multicolored tents as soldiers patrolled to deter looting and anti-riot police supervised the distribution of food and water.

Rouhani’s government has not asked for international assistance, leaving the relief effort in the hands of the Red Crescent, a few other non-governmental organizations, military agencies like the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — and individual good Samaritans.

In Quik Hasan, one company affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard sent machinery to move debris and a tanker to distribute water.

“We are grateful for global expressions of sympathy and offers of assistance,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “For now, we can manage with our own resources.”

But along the road from Sarpol-e Zahab to Quik Hasan, a distance of about 10 miles, there were few aid convoys — a sign that significant assistance still had not reached the most remote villages.

In the village of Zarin Joub, about two dozen mourners clad in black — some wearing disposable masks to guard against dust kicked up by the wreckage — gathered in a field for a funeral service for Sirous Piri, an elderly man whose relatives said died while rescuing his wife and child from their falling house.

Twelve people died in the village of almost 400 inhabitants, residents said.

Relatives from Iran’s scattered but tightly knit Kurdish community were among the first to reach Quik Hasan, bringing food, erecting tents and helping residents dig with their hands through the rubble of homes constructed from concrete blocks and brick.

Somaye Hasani, a 20-year-old from Tehran whose relatives live in the village, traveled here to help distribute aid. The night before, Hasani said, two doctors, a husband and wife, arrived from northern Iran to volunteer their help and administered emergency medical care to a woman who had been rescued from beneath a house.

A cleric returning from a pilgrimage in the Iraqi city of Karbala — one of the holiest in Shiite Islam — stopped to collect donated food and brought it to the village.

Most residents of Quik Hasan survive by raising livestock, and the lack of water was harming flocks of goats and sheep. One shepherd, who gave his name only as Morad, was nearly inconsolable because on the night of the temblor, he had leashed his shepherd dog outside his house as usual and the dog was crushed under a collapsing wall.

As darkness fell over the village, families lighted campfires, the smoke rising against a cloudless indigo sky. They cooked macaroni soup, beans and tea in salvaged pots. Women’s cries filled the night air, but it was too early to sleep.

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Quik Hasan and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Follow @SBengali on Twitter for more news from South Asia


UPDATES:

9:45 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting that includes additional details.

This article was originally published at 5 a.m.

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