Iran quake survivors spend second night in the open

Tehran (AFP) – Tens of thousands of Iranians spent a second night in the open after a 7.3-magnitude quake struck near the border with Iraq, killing more than 400 people.

Residents who had fled their homes when Sunday’s quake rocked the mountainous region spanning Iran’s western province of Kermanshah and neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan braved chilly temperatures as authorities struggled to get aid into the quake zone.

Iran has declared Tuesday a national day of mourning as officials outlined the most pressing priorities and described the levels of destruction in some parts as “total”.

President Hassan Rouhani visited the city of Kermanshah on Tuesday and promised that the government would move swiftly to help those left homeless by the disaster.

“I want to assure those who are suffering that the government has begun to act with all means at its disposal and is scrambling to resolve this problem as quickly as possible,” he said.

Rouhani said that all aid would be channelled through the Housing Foundation, one of the charitable trusts set up after the Islamic revolution of 1979 that are major players in the Iranian economy.

The head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said the immediate need was for tents, water and food.

“Newly constructed buildings… held up well, but the old houses built with earth were totally destroyed,” he told state television during a visit to the affected region.

The toll in Iran stood at 413 dead and 6,700 injured, while across the border in more sparsely populated areas of Iraq, the health ministry said eight people had died and several hundred were injured. Iraq’s Red Crescent put the toll at nine dead.

Officials said they were setting up relief camps for the displaced and that 22,000 tents, 52,000 blankets and tonnes of food and water had been distributed. The official IRNA news agency said 30 Red Crescent teams had been sent to the area.

Hundreds of ambulances and dozens of army helicopters were reported to have joined the rescue effort after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the government and armed forces to mobilise “all their means”.

By late Monday, officials said all the roads in Kermanshah province had been reopened, although the worst-affected town of Sar-e Pol-e Zahab remained without electricity, state television reported.

At least 280 people were killed in the town, home to some 85,000 people. Crumpled vehicles lay under the rubble of flattened buildings on the streets.

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