Wailing survivors crowded hospital emergency rooms as rescue teams and sniffer dogs combed through rubble for bodies Monday following a powerful earthquake near the Iran-Iraq border that killed more than 400 people and left thousands injured, Iranian officials said.
Behnam Saeedi, a spokesman for Iran’s crisis management headquarters, told state-run Channel 6 news that the death toll had risen to 407 dead, with 6,700 injured.
Authorities in Kermanshah province in western Iran, the hardest-hit area, said Monday afternoon that 328 people had died in that province alone, most in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab, the IRNA news agency reported.
The magnitude 7.3 temblor late Sunday was centered 20 miles from the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Eight people were killed in Iraq and 425 injured, nearly all in the country’s northern Kurdish region, Iraqi media said, quoting Red Cross figures.
The quake caused damage that contaminated drinking water supplies and knocked out electricity, phone and gas services across a wide area of Kermanshah, most of which is rural. Landslides and scores of aftershocks delayed emergency crews and rattled residents as news media broadcast urgent appeals for blood donations.
Iran’s state-run Press TV showed images of shopkeepers rushing from stores as goods tumbled off shelves.
“All schools and public buildings are closed down and only the rescue teams for electricity, phones and hospitals are working,” Shahnaza Azhtari, a resident of Kermanshah, wrote on the Telegram online messaging platform.
In the town of Shahrak Elahiaye, newly built apartment blocks suffered broken walls and collapsed ceilings, residents said. Resident Mehdi Sammeni said he and others slept in parks Sunday night, braving the cold.
In Sarpol-e Zahab, a town of 50,000 people, relief workers handed out water. Medical emergency teams erected field hospitals to tend to victims who were being brought on stretchers from collapsed buildings.
The Asr Iran news website reported that Red Crescent rescue teams pulled an infant from rubble in Sarpol-e Zahab on Monday morning and later rescued the baby’s mother, raising hope that some survivors were clinging to life beneath collapsed buildings.
News video, nevertheless, showed survivors openly lamenting in the streets of Kermanshah towns amid the wreckage of mid-rise apartment blocks whose facades had crumbled to the ground, as bulldozers worked to clear the streets.
By late afternoon, electricity had been restored in 70 percent of quake-affected areas, IRNA reported.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered military forces to rush to the quake-affected areas while President Hassan Rouhani dispatched his vice president to make all medical and emergency equipment available to assist victims, Fars news agency reported.
In Iran’s capital, Tehran, 300 miles east of the epicenter, residents felt the temblor but there apparently was little damage apart from a few cracks appearing in houses.
Ali Moradi, a seismologist, told Iranian television that several foreshocks of magnitude 4.2 and greater sent some frightened residents into the streets before midnight, which meant fewer people were indoors when the main quake struck.
“If the main quake had struck at midnight or the wee hours, the number of dead could be much bigger,” Moradi said.
(Special correspondent Nabih Bulos contributed to this report from Beirut. Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.)
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