Iran abandons rescue efforts after devastating earthquake
Ankara — Iranian officials called off rescue operations, saying there was little chance of finding more survivors from the earthquake that shook parts of western Iran on Sunday, killing at least 530 people, state media said.
Survivors, many of whom were left homeless by the earthquake that measured 7.3 on the Richter scale and that struck villages and towns in a mountainous area bordering Iraq, battled overnight temperatures just above freezing point and faced yet another bleak day on Tuesday needing food and water.
The 530 death toll reported by state news agency Irna, made it Iran’s deadliest earthquake in more than a decade.
Thousands of people were injured and 30,000 homes damaged. Two whole villages were destroyed.
The quake wreaked the most damage in Iran despite an epicentre on the Iraqi side of the frontier. Iraqi officials said seven people were killed and 325 injured in Iraq, all in the northern Kurdish provinces.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani arrived in the morning in the stricken area in Kermanshah province and promised that the government would "use all its power to resolve the problems in the shortest time".
Thousands of people huddled in makeshift camps while many others chose to spend a second night in the open, despite low temperatures, because they feared more tremors after about 193 aftershocks were felt, state television said.
A homeless young woman in Sarpol-e Zahab, one of the hardest-hit towns, told state TV that her family was exposed to the night cold because of lack of tents. "We need help. We need everything. The authorities should speed up their help," the woman said.
Television footage showed rescue workers combing through the rubble of dozens of villages immediately after the quake. But by Tuesday morning Iranian officials said there was no longer any likelihood of finding survivors and called off the rescue effort.
"The rescue operations in Kermanshah province have ended," Pir-Hossein Kolivand, head of Iran’s Emergency Medical Services, said.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered his condolences to the victims on Monday and called on government agencies to do all they could to help.
The Iranian army, the elite Revolutionary Guards and forces of its affiliated Basij militia were dispatched to affected areas on Sunday night.
Hospitals in nearby provinces took in many of the injured, state television said, airing footage of survivors waiting to be treated. Hundreds of critically injured people were dispatched to hospitals in Tehran.
Iran’s Red Crescent said emergency shelter had been provided for thousands of homeless people, but a lack of water and electricity as well as blocked roads in some areas hindered aid supply efforts.
"People in some villages are still in dire need of food, water and shelter," the governor of Qasr-e Shirin county, in Kermanshah province, Faramarz Akbari, said.
Nazar Barani, mayor of Ezgeleh, a city in Kermanshah, said that 80% of the city’s buildings had collapsed.
Quake survivors desperately needed tents with elderly people and babies as young as one year old sleeping in the cold for two consecutive nights.
In an interview with state television, Barani asked people to send fuel, milk, water and food as emergency services were too slow and provided limited provisions.
"People are hungry and thirsty," a local man told Isna news agency. "There is no electricity. Last night I cried when I saw children with no food or shelter," he said.
Houses in Iranian villages are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.
Some people are angry that among the buildings that collapsed were homes that the government had built in recent years under an affordable housing programme.
Photographs on Iranian news websites showed rescue workers digging people out of collapsed buildings, cars smashed beneath rubble and rescue dogs trying to find signs of life under the twisted ruins.
"More people will die because of cold. My family lives in a village near Sarpol-e Zahab. I cannot even go there. I don’t know whether they are dead or alive," Rojan Meshkat, 38, in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj told Reuters by telephone.