OVER 400 DEAD
A man weeps after losing
· Photos From the Quake Zone
· Major Quakes in Iran Since 1972
SARBAGH, Iran (Feb. 22) -- A powerful earthquake flattened villages and collapsed mud-brick homes in central Iran on Tuesday, killing at least 270 people and injuring nearly 1,000. Officials warned the toll could rise to 350.
Survivors dug frantically through slabs of concrete and piles of dirt, searching for loved ones buried under the rubble of destroyed homes. Some slapped their faces in grief as they sat beside dead relatives wrapped in blankets.
''What a catastrophe. Please help us,'' one pleaded.
The magnitude-6.4 quake was centered on the outskirts of Zarand, a town of about 15,000 people in Kerman province 600 miles southeast of Tehran, according to the seismological unit of Tehran University's Geophysics Institute.
It struck the mountainous region at 5:55 a.m., damaging at least 40 villages with a total population of about 30,000 people, officials said.
Heavy rain hampered rescue efforts, and temperatures were expected to turn bitterly cold after nightfall, compounding the misery. Emergency officials tried to evacuate survivors to nearby towns and cities.
Officials said Tuesday's quake was not a replay of the devastating Bam earthquake in 2003 because the epicenter was near lightly populated, remote villages. Tuesday's quake was also much deeper - 25 miles underground. The 6.6-magnitude quake that flattened Bam and killed 26,000 people was six miles underground.
While homes made of mud collapsed, cement buildings did not appear heavily damaged.
Still, the tiny villages that dot the mountain ranges were hit hard. In the village of Sarbagh, near Zarand, nearly 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed.
Kerman's governor, Mohammad Ali Karimi, told state-run television the current death toll was 270, with more than 950 people injured. He said several villages had been destroyed.
Mostafa Soltani, a spokesman at Kerman Governor General Office, said the final death toll could climb to 350.
Iranian television reported all hospitals in Zarand were filled to capacity with the injured, showing elderly women and men lying on beds and victims wrapped in bloody bandages or with broken bones.
The governor of Zarand told state-run television that power in the region has been disrupted, and supplies - especially medicine, syringes and tents - were needed.
The Iranian Red Crescent told international relief officials it did not need outside aid, said Roy Probert, a spokesman for the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Some 1,500 workers from the Iranian agency, along with sniffer dogs and mountain rescue teams, reached all the affected villages and were rushing in tents and tarps, Probert said.
''They seem to have the situation well in hand,'' Probert told The Associated Press.
Relief officials said they learned many lessons from the Bam quake.
''The earthquake in 2003 gave us a very good experience of how to deal with such a natural disaster. Despite the rain, relief operations are going smoothly. Relief teams have reached the villages and are helping the survivors,'' Soltani said.
Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. It experiences at least one slight earthquake every day on average.
02-22-05 1002 EST
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
Strong Earthquake Strikes Iran, Hundreds Dead
Tue Feb 22, 2005 11:17 AM ET
ZARAND, Iran (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake struck southeast Iran Tuesday, killing 400 people, injuring hundreds and turning remote mountain villages into rubble, officials said.
The tremor, with a magnitude of 6.4, centered on the town of Zarand, about 440 miles southeast of Tehran and revived painful memories of the devastating quake just 14 months ago in the nearby desert citadel city of Bam that killed 31,000 people.
Distraught and weeping villagers carried dead bodies wrapped in bloodied blankets and bed sheets, and dug with their bare hands through ruins in search of friends and relatives.
Hampered by heavy rainfall, relief teams raced to reach remote villages on the side of snowcapped mountains and provide shelter for thousands of people left homeless.
"Some areas are still unaccessible," Kerman province Governor Ali Karimi told state television. "Our priority is to give those affected tents and heating and shelter as soon as possible."
Karimi put the official death toll at 289 but said it was bound to rise.
Massoud Ghadipasha, head of the Kerman province forensic medical department, told Reuters 384 burial permits had already been issued and another 18 bodies had yet to be identified. Another local official said nearly 400 had been killed.
"It's completely devastated, there's almost nothing left of the buildings," Kari Egge, UNICEF representative in Iran, told Reuters by telephone from Douhan village, about 20 km (12.5 miles) from Zarand.
Egge said locals estimated at least 200 died in Douhan alone. "There are still people unaccounted for, that's for sure," she said.
While the mud-brick villages crumbled in the early morning tremor major towns and cities in the area escaped heavy damage meaning the death toll would not match the many thousands killed in Iranian quakes in the past, officials said.Following Islamic tradition, villagers immediately began burying their dead. "I saw four children, wrapped in blankets, being buried," said a Reuters photographer in another village.
"My whole family is dead," one man cried in images broadcast on state television.
Egge said survivors would need to move to nearby towns and villages to find shelter before nightfall.
"It's at 1,800 meters (5,400 feet) here. It's cold and has been raining. There's no shelter, nowhere for people to stay."
Some 40 villages, which had a combined population of about 30,000 people, were affected, local officials said.
Groups huddled together in the rain, striking their heads and chests in grief. Some picked through the ruins of rubble and twisted corrugated sheeting in search of belongings. Others sat silently weeping in front of what used to be their homes.
Television showed nurses wiping blood from the faces of children in cramped and chaotic hospital hallways. Some of the injured were taken by train to Kerman where bandaged and crying children clutching bags of serum stood at the railway station.
Criss-crossed by major fault lines which make it one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, Iran said it had no need for international assistance.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs agreed that local authorities, backed by the Iranian Red Crescent had the relief effort under control.
"It should be noted that both the government and the (U.N.) agencies were mobilized almost immediately after the disaster occurred and that coordination mechanisms were well in place -- a good lesson learned following the Bam experience," it said.
No major oil or gas production facilities are located in the affected area of OPEC's second-largest oil producer.