Iran Quake Survivors Spend Second Night in the Open Air

Iran Quake Survivors Spend Second Night in the Open Air

 Tens of thousands of Iranians spent a second night in the open air after a 7.3-magnitude quake struck near the border with Iraq, killing more than 400 and injuring nearly 7000.

People who had fled their homes when the quake rocked the mountainous region spanning Iran's western province of Kermanshah and Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday evening, braved chilly temperatures as low as 4C (32F) in some of the hardest hit areas as authorities struggled to get aid into the quake zone, AFP reports.

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.”

"People's immediate needs are firstly tents, water and food," said the head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari.

"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.

AFP, like other foreign media organizations, has not been allowed to visit the scene of the disaster.

Officials said they were setting up relief camps for the displaced and that 22,000 tents, 52,000 blankets and tons of food and water had been distributed. The official IRNA news agency said 30 Red Crescent teams had been sent to the area. Shahin Fathi, the head of Iran Red Crescent Society's Search and Rescue Unit, said that 530 rescue workers from 17 provinces are present in the quake-stricken regions as reported by Farsnews.

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

Farsnews reports that the Commander of the Army for Hygiene Affairs General Jalil Rajabi announced that 3 field hospitals have been mounted in Western Iran to help the wounded people, adding that 30 major surgical operations have been conducted in one of them so far.

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

At least 280 people were killed in the town, home to some 85,000 people. Buildings stood disfigured, their former facades now rubble on crumpled vehicles.

Farsnews reports that the Iranian Vice-President and Head of Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts and Tourism Organization, Ali Asqar Mounesan, announced on Monday that a number of historical places have been damaged in the strong quake which hit Western Iran on Sunday night.

"5 historical sites in Kermanshah province and over 7 monuments in Ilam province have been damaged by the earthquake," Mounesan said on Monday to Farsnews. He said historical monuments have sustained 20% damage and can be mended and restored, and expressed relief that the artifacts being kept at the museums in both provinces have remained unharmed.

The UNESCO-listed Behistun inscription from the seventh century BC was not affected, the ISNA agency said.

Totally destroyed

AFP described Nizar Abdullah who spent Sunday night with neighbour sifting through the ruins of a two-storey home next door after it crumbled into concrete debris.  

"There were eight people inside," the 34-year-old Iraqi Kurd said.

Some family members managed to escape, but "neighbour and rescue workers pulled out the mother and one of the children dead from the rubble."

The quake, which struck at a relatively shallow depth of 23 kilometers, was felt for about 20 seconds in Baghdad, and for longer in other provinces of Iraq, AFP journalists said.

It struck along a 1,500-kilometre fault line between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates, which extends through western Iran and northeastern Iraq.

The area sees frequent seismic activity. Farsnews reports that the main quake has so far been followed by over 135 aftershocks ranging from 2 to 5 in magnitude.