Iran ends quake rescue operations as hungry survivors battle the cold

Rescue operations have ended in areas of Iran hit by a powerful weekend earthquake that killed at least 450 people and injured thousands, state television reported on Tuesday, as many survivors, in need of food and water, battled the cold.

Sunday’s 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck villages and towns in the mountainous area of Kermanshah province that borders Iraq while many people were at home asleep. At least 14 provinces in Iran were affected.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrived in the morning in the earthquake-stricken area in Kermanshah and promised that the government “will use all its power to resolve the problems in the shortest time”.

State television said thousands were huddling in makeshift camps while many others spent a second night in the open for fear of more tremors after some 193 aftershocks.

A homeless young woman in Sarpol-e Zahab, one of the hardest-hit towns, told state TV that her family was exposed to the night cold because of lack of tents.

“We need help. We need everything. The authorities should speed up their help,” she said.

Television showed footage of rescue workers frantically combing through the rubble of dozens of villages immediately after the quake. But Iranian officials said the chances of finding any more survivors were extremely low.

“The rescue operations in Kermanshah province have ended,” Pir-Hossein Kolivand, head of Iran’s Emergency Medical Services, said on state TV.

Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered his condolences on Monday and called on government agencies to do all they could to help.

Iranian police, the elite Revolutionary Guards and its affiliated Basij militia forces were dispatched to affected areas on Sunday night.

A damaged building is seen following an earthquake in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah, Iran. REUTERS/Tasnim News Agency

BITTER COLD

Hospitals in nearby provinces took in many of the injured, state television said, airing footage of survivors waiting to be treated. Hundreds of critically injured people were dispatched to hospitals in Tehran.

Iran’s Red Crescent said emergency shelter had been provided for thousands of homeless people, but a lack of water and electricity as well as blocked roads in some areas hindered aid supply efforts.

Local authorities said traffic chaos on roads, caused by people from nearby provinces who were rushing to help, further hampered the flow of aid.

“People in some villages are still in dire need of food, water and shelter,” governor of Qasr-e Shirin Faramarz Akbari told state television.

More than 30,000 houses in the area were damaged and at least two villages were completely destroyed, Iranian authorities said.

Houses in Iranian villages are often made of concrete blocks or mudbrick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake. Some people are angry that among the collapsed buildings were houses that the government has built in recent years under its affordable housing programme.

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