Iran searches for victims

QUAKE AFTERMATH::The government declared a day of mourning yesterday, but many questioned why so many new buildings in a rebuilt Kurdish town collapsed

AP, SARPOL-E-ZAHAB, Iran

Wed, Nov 15, 2017 - Page 6

Rescuers yesterday used backhoes and heavy equipment to dig through the debris of buildings toppled by a powerful earthquake on the border between Iran and Iraq.

The grim work began in earnest again at dawn in the Kurdish town of Sarpol-e-Zahab in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, which appears to be the hardest hit in the magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck on Sunday night.

Rescuers and residents alike stood atop the remains of apartment complexes, looking through the rubble. They used heavy blankets to carry away corpses.

The hospital was heavily damaged, and the army set up field hospitals, although many of the injured were moved to other cities.

The quake also damaged an army garrison and buildings in the border city and killed an unspecified number of soldiers, reports said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday arrived in Kermanshah Province to see the damage for himself and offer his support to those affected.

“This was a pain for all Iranians,” Rouhani said, according to a statement on the presidency’s Web site. “I offer my condolences to the people of Kermanshah and tell them that all of us are behind Kermanshah.”

He said that the government would move swiftly to help those left homeless by the disaster.

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

Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif offered his thanks to foreign countries offering to help, but wrote on Twitter: “For now, we are able to manage with our own resources.”

Many of the heavily damaged complexes in Sarpol-e-Zahab were part of construction projects under former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The quake killed 430 people in Iran and injured 7,460, state media reported yesterday.

Some reports said unauthorized burials could mean the death toll was actually higher.

Seven deaths occurred in Iraq and 535 people were injured, all in the nation’s semiautonomous Kurdish region, according to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.

The disparity in casualty tolls immediately drew questions from Iranians, especially because so much of the town was new.

Sarpol-e-Zahab fell to the troops of then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein during his 1980 invasion of Iran.

After the war, Iran began rebuilding the town. It also was part of Ahmadinejad’s low-income housing project, which saw cheap construction.

Under the plan dubbed as Mehr or “kindness” in Farsi, about 2 million units were built in Iran, including hundreds in Sarpol-e Zahab. Many criticized the plan, warning that the low-quality construction could lead to a disaster.

Additional reporting by AFP