World Middle East

Officials in Iran and Iraq order aid rushed to areas hit by deadly magnitude 7.3 earthquake

Wailing survivors crowded hospital emergency rooms as rescue teams and sniffer dogs combed through rubble for bodies Monday after a powerful earthquake near the Iran-Iraq border that killed more than 400 people and left thousands injured, Iranian officials said.

Behnam Saeedi, a spokesman for Iran's crisis management headquarters, told state-run Channel 6 news that the death toll had risen to 407, with 6,700 injured.

Sources: USGS, Mapzen, OpenStreetMap

Authorities in Kermanshah province in western Iran, the hardest-hit area, said Monday afternoon that 328 people had died in that province alone, most in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab, the Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA, reported.

The magnitude 7.3 temblor late Sunday was centered 20 miles from the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Red Crescent and the Kurdish regional government said at least nine people were killed in Iraq. The Red Crescent said more than 425 were injured, whereas the Kurdish regional government put the number of injured at 554.

The quake caused damage that contaminated drinking water supplies and knocked out electricity, phone and gas services across a wide area of Kermanshah, most of which is rural. Landslides and scores of aftershocks rattled residents and delayed emergency crewsas news media broadcast urgent appeals for blood donations.

Iran’s state-run Press TV showed images of shopkeepers rushing from stores as goods tumbled off shelves.

“All schools and public buildings are closed down and only the rescue teams for electricity, phones and hospitals are working,” Shahnaza Azhtari, a resident of Kermanshah, wrote on the Telegram online messaging platform.

In the town of Shahrak-e Elahiyeh, newly built apartment blocks suffered broken walls and collapsed ceilings, residents said. Resident Mehdi Sammeni said he and others slept in parks Sunday night, braving the cold.

In Sarpol-e Zahab, a town of 50,000 people, relief workers handed out water. Medical emergency teams erected field hospitals to tend to victims who were being brought on stretchers from collapsed buildings.

The Asr Iran news website reported that Red Crescent rescue teams pulled an infant from rubble in Sarpol-e Zahab on Monday morning and later rescued the baby’s mother, raising hope that some survivors were clinging to life beneath collapsed buildings.

News video, nevertheless, showed survivors openly lamenting in the streets of Kermanshah towns amid the wreckage of mid-rise apartment blocks whose facades had crumbled to the ground, as bulldozers worked to clear the streets.

By late afternoon, electricity had been restored in 70% of quake-affected areas, IRNA reported.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered military forces to rush to the quake-stricken areas while President Hassan Rouhani dispatched his vice president to make all medical and emergency equipment available to assist victims, Fars News Agency reported.

Officials said they were distributing aid from the Iranian Red Crescent but had not requested any international assistance.

In Iran’s capital, Tehran, 300 miles east of the epicenter, residents felt the temblor but apparently there was little damage apart from a few cracks appearing in houses.

Ali Moradi, a seismologist, told Iranian television that several foreshocks of magnitude 4.2 and greater sent some frightened residents into the streets before midnight, which meant fewer people were indoors when the main quake struck.

“If the main quake had struck at midnight or the wee hours, the number of dead could be much bigger,” Moradi said.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider Abadi said he had “instructed civil defense teams and health and aid agencies to do all that they can” to assist quake victims. The United Nations office in Iraq said it was sending teams to assess needs in affected areas.

In Halabja, near the epicenter, Salam Omar Aziz, a 27-year-old member of the Kurdish peshmerga force, said he was watching the news on TV at home Sunday night when he started to feel the shaking and the neighborhood was plunged into darkness.

As he raced to the bedroom to get his infant daughter, Aziz could hear cabinet doors rattling, glasses breaking and neighbors screaming, he said by phone. Outside, the street was full of people, many of them barefoot or in slippers, he said. Several women were sitting on the curb, dizzy from the shaking.

Other neighbors tried to move their cars from their garages, in case the structures collapsed. Many spent the night in the street, too afraid to go back indoors, Aziz said.

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India. Staff writer Alexandra Zavis in Irbil, Iraq, and special correspondent Nabih Bulos in Beirut contributed to this report.

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Twitter: @SBengali

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UPDATES:

11:10 a.m.: This article was updated with new figures on the number of people killed and injured in Iraq.

9:40 a.m.: This article was updated with additional aid information for Iraq and Iran, as well as comments from officials and a witness.

This article was originally published at 7 a.m.

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