Iran earthquake relief efforts begin after 250 killed

BBC:Relief operations are under way in Iranafter two strong earthquakes in the north-west left at least 250 people and more than 2,000

Officials said dozens of villages had been severely damaged by the quake

Officials said dozens of villages had been severely damaged by the quake

injured.

The 6.4 and 6.3 quakes struck near Tabriz and Ahar on Saturday afternoon, with more than 55 aftershocks reported over the following hours.

More than 100 villages are damaged – thousands of people spent the night in emergency shelters or in the open.

Relief agencies are providing survivors with tents, bread and drinking water.

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“Start Quote

This village is a mass grave”

Alireza Haidaree Baje Baj village

The BBC’s Mohsen Asgari, in the capital Tehran, says hundreds of people were rescued overnight but that the aftershocks made the operation exhausting work.

‘Mass grave’

By Sunday, officials said all those trapped alive under rubble had been rescued - the focus has moved to burying to dead and to getting aid to the thousands of survivors left homeless.

On Sunday, Hassan Ghadami, Iran’s deputy interior minister, said that “all those under debris have been rescued and the quake-stricken people are now being provided with their basic needs,” the official Fars news agency reported.

“We hope that the death toll will not increase any more.”

Local officials said all the reported deaths have been in rural areas, an indication of the poorer quality of housing outside urban areas.

“This village is a mass grave,” said Alireza Haidaree, who had been searching for survivors in his home of Baje Baj.

“There are so many other villages that have been completely destroyed,” he told AFP. Locals said 33 of the villages 414 residents had died.

“The quake has created huge panic among the people,” one resident of Tabriz told the BBC. “Everyone has rushed to the streets and the sirens of ambulances are everywhere.”

The towns of Haris and Varzaqan in East Azerbaijan province in north-western Iran were among those that suffered casualties, local crisis committee chief Khalil Saei told state TV according to the Associated Press.

Fars reported that about 110 villages had been damaged, at least four totally flattened and 60 others sustained extensive damage.

Reports say phone lines to many villages were cut off, confining rescuers to radio contact.

“The magnitude of the disaster is so huge that officials are just managing to get enough people in from other provinces to help out,” one Iranian Red Crescent worker told the AFP news agency.

Dozens of families spent the night outdoors in parks, and television showed footage of bodies lying on the floor of a morgue in Ahar, including those of children.

Stadium shelter

Sixty-six rescue teams have been sent to the affected region, along with about 200 ambulances and five helicopters.

The BBC’s Mohsen Asgari says many people were in their homes when the earthquake struck and that is why the death toll is rising

As morning came, search teams with sniffer dogs began working through the wreckage in Tabriz.

There were reports that in some areas many of the victims were women, who had been inside homes preparing evening meals to break the Ramadan fast.

One farmer from the village of Qanbar Mehdizade said he and his family survived because they had been working in the open fields at the time.

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Iran’s earthquake history

  • March 2006 – at least 70 people are killed and nearly 1,000 injured by a 6.0 magnitude quake in Lorestan province
  • February 2005 – more than 500 people killed by a strong quake near Zahran, in Kerman province
  • December 2003 – a 6.6 magnitude quake destroys the ancient city of Bam, killing more than 25,000 people
  • May 1997 – more than 1,600 killed in Birjand, eastern Iran, in a 7.1 magnitude quake
  • February 1997 – a 5.5 magnitude quake kills about 1,000 in north-western Iran
  • June 1990 – some 40,000 die in a tremor in the northern Gilan province

“I was working on my farm, on my tractor, and I felt the earth shake and I was thrown off the vehicle,” he told AFP.

A Red Crescent has provided 3,000 tents, blankets, tonnes of food and blood supplies, it also took over a sports stadium to provide emergency shelter to about 16,000 people who had fled their homes.

A provincial official warned people to stay outdoors overnight because of the risk of aftershocks.

The Turkish Red Crescent said it was sending a truck full of emergency supplies to the border.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s office posted a statement on its website expressing condolences to those in the disaster zone and calling on authorities to “mobilise all efforts to help the affected populations,” AFP reports.

Map

The first quake struck 23km (14 miles) south-west of Ahar and 58km (36) miles north-east of Tabriz at 16:54 local time (12:23 GMT) on Saturday, said the US Geological Survey.

The second earthquake struck just 11 minutes after the first, slightly closer to Tabriz.

Iran straddles a major geological fault line, making it prone to seismic activity. In 2003 an earthquake in the city of Bam left more than 25,000 people dead.

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