Strong earthquake hits Iraq and Iran, killing more than 400

ANKARA/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – More than 400 people were killed in Iran when a magnitude 7.3 earthquake jolted the country, state media said on Monday, and rescuers were searching for dozens trapped under rubble in the mountainous area. At least six have died in Iraq as well.

State television said more than 407 people were killed in Iran’s deadliest earthquake in more than a decade and at least 6,600 were injured. Local officials said the death toll would rise as search and rescue teams reached remote areas of Iran.

The earthquake, which struck on Sunday, was felt in several western provinces of Iran but the hardest hit province was Kermanshah. More than 300 of the victims were in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah province, about 15 km (10 miles) from the Iraq border.

Iranian state television said the quake had caused heavy damage in some villages where houses were made of earthen bricks. Rescuers were laboring to find survivors trapped under collapsed buildings.

Iranian media reported that a woman and her baby were pulled out alive from the rubble on Monday in Sarpol-e Zahab, the worst hit area with a population of 85,000.

The quake also triggered landslides that hindered rescue efforts, officials told state television. At least 14 provinces in Iran had been affected, Iranian media reported.

ANGRY PEOPLE

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured magnitude 7.3. An Iraqi meteorology official put its magnitude at 6.5, with the epicenter in Penjwin in Sulaimaniyah province in the Kurdistan region, close to the main border crossing with Iran.

Tempers frayed in the quake-hit area as the search went on for survivors amidst the twisted rubble of collapsed buildings. State TV aired footage of damaged buildings, vehicles under rubble and wounded people wrapped in blankets.

Kurdish health officials said at least six people were killed in Iraq and at least 68 injured, adding that in northern Iraq Kurdish districts seven were killed and 325 wounded.

Iraq’s health and local officials said the worst-hit area was Darbandikham district, near the border with Iran, where at least 10 houses had collapsed and the district’s only hospital was severely damaged.

“The situation there is very critical,” Kurdish Health Minister Rekawt Hama Rasheed told Reuters.

The district’s main hospital was damaged and had no power, Rasheed said, so the injured were taken to Sulaimaniyah for treatment. Homes and buildings had extensive structural damage, he said.

The quake was felt as far south as Baghdad, where many residents rushed from their houses and tall buildings when tremors shook the Iraqi capital.

“I thought at first that it was a huge bomb. But then I heard everyone around me screaming: ‘Earthquake!’”

NO SHELTER

Iran sits astride major fault lines and is prone to frequent tremors. A magnitude 6.6 quake on Dec. 26, 2003, devastated the historic city of Bam, 1,000 km southeast of Tehran, killing about 31,000 people.

Electricity and water was cut off in several Iranian and Iraqi cities, and fears of aftershocks sent thousands of people in both countries out onto the streets and parks in cold weather.

Iranian authorities acknowledged the relief effort was still slow and patchy. More than 70,000 people needed emergency shelter, the head of Iranian Red Crescent said.

Hojjat Gharibian, one of hundreds of homeless Iranian survivors, was huddled against the cold with his family in Qasr-e Shirin.

“My two children were sleeping when the house started to collapse because of the quake. I took them and ran to the street. We spent hours in the street until aid workers moved us into a school building,” Gharibian told Reuters by telephone.

Iran’s police, Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia forces were sent to quake-hit areas overnight, state TV reported.

Aid workers handed out water to people, while bulldozers worked to clear the streets in damaged areas.

A local official said aftershocks slowed down erecting tents for homeless people but electricity had been restored in most of the quake-hit areas.

TURKEY AND ISRAEL

Turkish Red Crescent Chairman Kerem Kinik told broadcaster NTV that Red Crescent teams in Erbil were preparing to go to the site of the earthquake and that Turkey’s national disaster management agency, AFAD, and National Medical Rescue Teams were also preparing to head into Iraq.

Kinik said the Turkish Red Crescent was gathering 3,000 tents and heaters, 10,000 beds and blankets and moving them toward the Iraqi border.

“We are coordinating with Iranian and Iraqi Red Crescent groups. We are also getting prepared to make deliveries from our northern Iraq Erbil depot,” he said.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi, reporting by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Rasheed in Iraq, Bozorgmeh Sharafedin in Londn, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Irem Koca in Ankara, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, and Dubai newsroom; Editing by Peter Cooney, Bill Tarrant, Larry King

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