No fewer than 400 people died and buildings levelled following a 7.3-magnitude earthquake that struck the Iraq-Iran border area Sunday night.
Rescuers dug with their bare hands yesterday through the debris of buildings brought down by the quake in the once-contested mountainous border region, with nearly all of the victims in an area rebuilt since the end of the ruinous 1980s war, about 19 miles (31 kilometers) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the most recent measurements from the United States Geological Survey.
The number of dead came from the provincial forensic department based on death certificates issued. Some reports said authorities warned that unauthorized burials without certification could mean the death toll was higher.
According to Associated Press, it hit at 9:48 p.m. Iran time, just as people were going to bed.
The worst damage appeared to be in the Kurdish town of Sarpol-e-Zahab in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq.
In Iraq, the earthquake killed at least seven people and injured 535 others, all in the country’s northern, semiautonomous Kurdish region, according to its Interior Ministry.
The disparity in the fatality figures immediately drew questions from Iranians, especially because so much of the town was new. The earthquake struck 14.4 miles (23.2 kilometers) below the surface, a shallow depth that can have broader damage. Magnitude 7 earthquakes on their own are capable of widespread, heavy damage.
The quake caused Dubai’s skyscrapers to sway and could be felt 1,060 kilometers (660 miles) away on the Mediterranean coast. Nearly 120 aftershocks followed. Residents fled into the streets as the quake struck, without time to grab their possessions, as apartment complexes collapsed into rubble.
Outside walls of some complexes were sheared off by the quake, power and water lines were severed, and telephone service was disrupted.
Residents dug frantically through wrecked buildings for survivors as they wailed. Firefighters from Tehran joined other rescuers in the desperate search, using dogs to inspect the rubble.
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.
It also damaged an army garrison and buildings in the border city and killed an unspecified number of soldiers, according to reports. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei immediately dispatched all government and military forces to aid those affected.
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, wrapped in blankets as were the dead.
The quake killed 407 people in Iran and injured 7,156 others, Iran’s crisis management headquarters spokesman Behnam Saeedi told state TV. He said most were treated for minor injuries and released, with fewer than 1,000 still hospitalized.