Published: Wed, November 15, 2017
World | By Melba Underwood

Officials raise Iran-Iraq natural disaster death toll to 530

Officials raise Iran-Iraq natural disaster death toll to 530

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to visit there Tuesday to assess damage and oversee rescue work.

The death toll in the devastating 7.3-magnitude natural disaster that struck Iran in a region bordering Iraq has reached 540, with thousands of Iranians struggling to cope without basic necessities and making desperate pleas for help. "I want to assure those who are suffering that the government has begun to act with all means at its disposal and is scrambling to resolve this problem as quickly as possible", he said.

Rouhani said all aid would be channelled through the Housing Foundation, a charitable trust and major player in Iran's economy.

Maj Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said that the immediate needs were tents, water and food. "The faults and shortcomings in the construction of these buildings should be investigated".

TV reports indicate that more than half of the Iranian casualties are from the town of Sarpol-e-Zahab, and the district of Ezgeleh, which have a combined population of 30,000. Seven towns and almost 2,000 villages were damaged, authorities said, and several villages were completely wiped from the map.

Rescuers are digging through the debris of buildings felled by an natural disaster that killed more than 430 people in the border region of Iran and Iraq. Iraq's Red Crescent put the toll at nine dead.

Temperatures in Kermanshah province fell close to freezing for the second night in succession.

Full-scale rescue operation could start only with the dawn, and yet unknown, are still people under the rubble.

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Health Minister Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi was cited Tuesday by the Tasnim news agency as recognising that aid "distribution was not assured properly" and needed to be improved.

State television showed tents, blankets and food being distributed in areas struck by the temblor.

Iran's Olympic weightlifting champion Kianoush Rostami put his Rio Olympics 2016 gold medal for auction to raise money for the quake-stricken areas. "The quake did not kill us but the cold weather will kill us", a woman in her 30s said. "But now nearly all are dead", Reza, who refused to give his full name, told Reuters from Sarpol-e Zahab town.

At dawn, buildings in the town stood disfigured, their former facades now rubble on crumpled vehicles.

Also, 40 ambulances, 55 4WD vehicles, 9 rescue vehicles, and 5 helicopters have been dispatched by Relief and Rescue Organisation of the Iranian Red Crescent Society from the first hours of the morning for assistance.

But by late afternoon, officials said all the roads in Kermanshah province had been re-opened, although the worst-affected town of Sar-e Pol-e Zahab remained without electricity, said state television.

The area sees frequent seismic activity. Iran's Kermanshah province, where most of the damage occurred, is home to both Shia and Sunni Muslims.

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