Strong quake strikes Iran, over 400 dead
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.
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.
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.
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.