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More Than 430 Dead In Powerful Quake Near Iran-Iraq Border


Thousands of people spent a second night in makeshift tents or out in the open as authorities downplayed hope for finding more survivors of a powerful earthquake near the Iran-Iraq border that killed more than 437 people.

Iran's Kermanshah Province bore the brunt of the quake, with the Interior Ministry on November 13 reporting 407 dead and nearly 6,700 people injured.

Early on November 14, Iranian news agencies said the toll had climbed. The IRNA official news agency said 430 people had died in Iran and 7,156 were injured. The semi-official Tasnim news agency put the death toll at 445, with 7,370 injured.

Reuters and AFP reported that by early morning, authorities had called off most rescue operations, saying few more survivors were likely to be found in the hardest hit province.

"The rescue operations in the Kermanshah province have ended," Pir-Hossein Kolivand, head of Iran's Emergency Medical Services, said on state TV, according to Reuters.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply saddened by the loss of life" and the UN "stands ready to assist." Offers of help came from elsewhere, including Italy, which was also hit by devastating earthquakes recently.

Iranian state television said thousands were huddling in makeshift camps overnight while many others braved the cold and spent a second night in the open for fear of more tremors to come after some 193 aftershocks struck the region.

In Iraq, officials said at least seven people were killed and more than 540 others injured on the Iraqi side as a result of the quake.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said that all the casualties were in the northern Kurdish region.

The Iranian government announced November 14 as a day of national mourning for the victims of the deadly quake.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 7.3-magnitude quake was centered 32 kilometers southwest of the city of Halabja in northeastern Iraq at a depth of 33.9 kilometers.

Tehran University’s seismological center said the quake struck at 9:48 p.m. local time on November 12, with residents reporting feeling the quake throughout the region, from Turkey to Kuwait.

"The house shook vigorously and everything was falling from shelves. People were shocked. Many took into their cars and drove away," said Suma Saffari, a journalist in Sanandaj in Iran's Kurdistan Province.

"There are many people in the streets. Many windows are shattered, homes are damaged," Saffari said.

She said health officials were asking citizens to donate blood for the injured and that local residents are in urgent need of blankets, food, water, and infant formula.

Jalil, a resident of the Iranian city of Kermanshah, told RFE/RL that electricity and phones connections were cut for several hours after the quake struck.

Nishtman Assadi, a local reporter in the city of Kermanshah, told RFE/RL that many residents in the affected areas were in a panic. "They don't even have drinking water."

"The local Red Crescent is trying to help people. They are distributing tents.... But the number of people left without shelter is huge and I don't think they would be able to provide everyone with temporary shelter," Assadi said.

"Due to a lack of heavy equipment, including mechanical shovels, it's not easy to recover the bodies from the rubble.... People are working with their bare hands to recover the bodies," Assadi added.

​The town of Sarpol-e Zahab, about 15 kilometers from the Iraq border, was the hardest hit, with more than half the casualties reported there, reports said.

The hospital in Sarpol-e-Zahab was heavily damaged, and the army set up field hospitals, although many of the injured were moved to other cities, including Tehran.

Survivors "are now looking for their belongings, for their loved ones under the rubble," an eyewitness says in the narration of a video he said he shot in Sarpol-e Zahab.

The man, who did not identify himself, said that soldiers without equipment were struggling to aid rescue efforts.

The soldiers "are completely empty-handed," he said. "They don’t even have masks and gloves, so it's useless.”

Officials said the Iranian border town of Ghasre Shirin was heavily damaged, with rescue workers reporting that their efforts were being made difficult because of power outages.​

Mojtaba Nikkerdar, the provincial deputy governor, told state television there were deaths in at least 30 separate villages, but he said it would take hours before exact casualty numbers could be determined.

"There are still people under the rubble. We hope the number of dead and injured won't rise too much, but it will rise," Nikkerdar said.

IRNA said water and electricity had been cut in some parts of Kermanshah Province.

The semiofficial Iranian ILNA news agency reported that at least 14 provinces had been affected by the earthquake.

WATCH: Amateur video taken by a witness on the ground appeared to show that many of the buildings in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab had collapsed. The destruction of some infrastructure also meant that drinking water had been tainted.

"The quake was felt in several Iranian provinces bordering Iraq.... Eight villages were damaged.... Electricity has been cut in some villages and rescue teams have been dispatched to those areas," state TV reported.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on government agencies and rescuers to do all they could to help those affected, according to state media.

News agencies reported that Iranian President Hassan Rohani had called on the Interior Ministry to make a maximum effort to aid victims.

Rohani is due to visit the areas damaged by the earthquake on November 14.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi issued a directive for the country's civil defense teams and "related institutions" to respond to the natural disaster, according to his office.

Iraqi news agencies showed photos of crumbled buildings in around the city of Sulaimaniya in the Kurdistan region, saying at least 50 people had been injured in the town of Darbandikhan.

Damage was also reported at a dam holding back the Diyala River near Darbandikhan.

"There are horizontal and vertical cracks on the road and in the body of the dam and parts of the dam sank lower," Rahman Hani, the director of the dam, told AP news agency

AFP reported that local authorities called on the population in the southern area of the town to leave their homes, fearing that the dam would burst.

Rasool Mahmoud, Radio Farda's correspondent in Irbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, said he was home with his family when tremors shook the city.

"The ground shook for some 10 seconds. The hanging lamps began to sway. I told my family that it's the first tremor and that we need to take cover. The quake lasted for 10 seconds, and when it stopped, we all ran outside," he said.

"Most of the injured in Irbil sustained injuries while they were running outside, they fell while running from homes, some fell from staircases, some from roofs," he added.

The quake was felt in the Iranian capital, Tehran, and in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Residents of southwest Turkey, Israel, and Kuwait also said they had felt the temblor.

Iran is on many major fault lines and is often hit by damaging earthquakes. In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake destroyed the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AFP, Reuters, AP, CNN, dpa, IRNA, Iraqi News, The New York Times, and ILNA
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