Iran Pledges Swift Aid after Major Quake Kills 400
Thousands of homeless Iranians sought shelter from bitter cold on Tuesday as President Hassan Rouhani promised swift help after a major earthquake that killed more than 400 people.
The country marked a day of mourning for those killed in the 7.3-magnitude quake that struck a mountainous region spanning the Iran-Iraq border late Sunday.
Thousands of homes were destroyed in the quake, which rocked a region spanning Iran's western province of Kermanshah and neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan.
On Tuesday, residents who had fled their homes awoke from a second night in the cold outdoors as authorities struggled to get aid into the quake zone.
Rouhani visited the city of Kermanshah and promised the government would move swiftly to help those left homeless by the disaster.
"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 channeled through the Housing Foundation, one of the charitable trusts set up after the Islamic revolution of 1979 that are major players in the Iranian economy.
The head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said the immediate need was for tents, water and food.
"Newly constructed buildings... held up well, but the old houses built with earth were totally destroyed," he told state television as he visited the affected region.
- 12,000 homes destroyed -
Around 12,000 Iranian homes were destroyed and another 15,000 damaged in the quake, according to official estimates.
Seven towns and nearly 2,000 villages were damaged, authorities said, and several villages were completely wiped from the map.
The toll in Iran stood at 430 dead and 7,460 injured, while across the border in more sparsely populated areas of Iraq, the health ministry said eight people had died and several hundred were injured. Iraq's Red Crescent put the toll at nine dead.
On Tuesday, Iran marked a day of mourning, with a black banner adorning the corner of images of the disaster broadcast by state television to the tune of "Sad Lisa" by British singer Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens.
The headline of a state newspaper read "Iran cries with Kermanshah," referring to the Kurdish-majority province.
"Search operations are reaching their end, with teams constantly monitoring the situation to know if there are still people to extract from the rubble," Behnam Saidi, the spokesman for a crisis unit set up to handle the response to the quake, told state television.
But more aid was still needed.
"The most urgent need is to provide solutions for heating, housing and food," Pir Hossein Koolivand, the head of national rescue services, told state television.
"Today, we sent our ambulances to villages in areas affected by the quake to help people rescued yesterday, including changing their bandages," he said.
He added that "psychological support teams" had been sent to these areas.
The authorities said water and electricity had returned to most affected regions.
- Frequent seismic activity -
Rouhani on Tuesday visited the town of Sar-e Pol-e Zahab, worst hit by the quake.
At least 280 people were killed in the town, home to some 85,000 people, where crumpled vehicles lay under the rubble of flattened buildings on the streets.
On Monday, Iranian officials said they were setting up relief camps for the displaced and that 22,000 tents, 52,000 blankets and tonnes of food and water had been distributed.
The official IRNA news agency said 30 Red Crescent teams had been sent to the area.
Hundreds of ambulances and dozens of army helicopters were reported to have joined the rescue effort after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the government and armed forces to mobilize "all their means."
By late Monday, officials said all the roads in Kermanshah province had been reopened.
Sunday's quake struck along a 1,500-kilometer (950-mile) fault line between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates, which extends through western Iran and northeastern Iraq.
The area sees frequent seismic activity.
In 1990, a 7.4-magnitude quake in northern Iran killed 40,000 people, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless, reducing dozens of towns and nearly 2,000 villages to rubble.
Thirteen years later, a catastrophic quake flattened swathes of the ancient southeastern Iranian city of Bam, killing at least 31,000.
Iran has experienced at least two major quake disasters since -- one in 2005 that killed more than 600 people and another in 2012 that left some 300 dead.