Iran calls off earthquake rescue, shifts to providing aid for thousands left homeless

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Deadly Iraq-Iran earthquake

Thousands of people left homeless after a massive earthquake struck western Iran are still without tents, food and water. The quake has led to an outpouring of solidarity in Iran.

Iranian authorities on Tuesday scrambled to bring relief aid to thousands of people left homeless by an earthquake that killed at least 432 people and injured nearly 5,000 more.

The national rescue service called off most searches for bodies trapped under rubble, saying it was unlikely survivors would be found.

President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday arrived in Kermanshah province, a mostly Kurdish area hit hardest by the 7.3-magnitude tremor that struck the mountainous border region between Iran and Iraq Sunday.

"Today, all Iranians stand behind Kermanshah, and we will do everything so that people can more quickly forget this tragedy," he said.

As rescue operations wrapped up, the priority was "to provide solutions for heating, housing and food," said Pir Hossein Koolivand, the head of national rescue services.

Catastrophe

Buildings leveled

A 7.3-magnitude earthquake has wreaked destruction on a mountainous border region between Iran and Iraq, leveling buildings and killing hundreds. The town of Sarpol-e Zahab, in Iran's Kermanshah province, is said to be the hardest hit.

Catastrophe

Chaotic scenes

Local residents have seen their homes destroyed and family members injured or killed. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the government and armed forces to mobilize "all their means" to help the affected population.

Catastrophe

Searching for survivors

Rescue personnel from the Iranian Red Crescent have been searching the rubble for survivors. Government officials say the earthquake triggered landslides, which have cut off roads and hampered relief efforts in the mountainous region.

Catastrophe

Rising death toll

Iranian and Iraqi officials have confirmed hundreds of deaths. The majority of those who lost their lives were in Iran's western Kermanshah province. Thousands more have been injured.

Catastrophe

Keeping warm

Residents huddled around fires in Sarpol-e Zahab to keep warm. Night-time temperature lows in Kermanshah province are about 3 degrees celsius at this time of year.

Catastrophe

Hospital damaged

The only hospital in Sarpol-e Zahab was badly hit by the earthquake. Iranian state TV says the army has set up field hospitals.

Catastrophe

Rubble remaining

Apartment complexes rapidly collapsed in Sarpol-e Zahab, with some residents barely evacuating in time.

Catastrophe

Forced to flee

Many survivors have been left without a home, relying now on support from aid organizations distributing tents, blankets, and food in areas hit by the quake. Damage was reported in at least eight villages, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent said.

Read more: Squashed between Arabia and Eurasia - why the ground shakes so often in Iran

Widespread destruction

Around 15,500 homes were destroyed and another 15,000 damaged in Kermanshah province, according to official estimates.

Seven towns and nearly 2,000 villages were damaged, authorities said, and several villages were completely destroyed.

Many villages consist of homes made of earthen bricks unable to withstand earthquakes. However, some criticized damage to so-called Mehr government constructed housing projects from a decade ago, suggesting they were made using shoddy material and construction techniques.

"Before their 10-year anniversary, Mehr buildings have turned into coffins for their inhabitants," the reformist Fararu news website wrote Monday.

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Recognizing the problem, Rouhani said the government would launch an investigation. 

"The faults and shortcomings in the construction of these buildings should be investigated," state-run IRNA news agency quoted him as saying. The "government will definitely follow up on these issues and identify the culprits."

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Some homeless brave third night in cold

Officials said 22,000 tents, 52,000 blankets and tons of food and water had been distributed.

In the town of Sarpol-e-Zahab, one of the hardest hit in the quake, thousands of homeless residents sheltered in makeshift tent camps.

Others were preparing to spend a third night sleeping on the streets as night time temperatures were expected to dip to around 3 degrees Celsius (37 Fahrenheit) through the rest of the week.

Some complained of the slow response from the state.

"What we need is a tent and covers to be able to get through the night," said Shima Maryami Kiani, 24, a mother of a three-year-old.

"People in some villages are still in dire need of food, water and shelter," said Faramarz Akbari, the governor of Qasr-e Shirin county in Kermanshah province

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, its affiliated Basij militia and the army were sent to impacted areas on Sunday.

Iran's Red Crescent has provided emergency shelter to thousands of homeless people. But it said aid supply efforts were being hampered by a lack of water and electricity as well as blocked roads in some areas.

Solidarity

The earthquake has led to an outpouring of solidarity from Iranians across the country and millions more in the diaspora.

"Iran cries with Kermanshah," read a headline printed in Kurdish in a state run newspaper.

Ali Daei, a legend in football and former national team coach, started a campaign to gather food and supplies. Two football teams in Tehran also said they were sending tents and blankets to the area.

On social media, Iranians at home and abroad sought to launch their own initiatives to bring supplies to the affected areas.

Dozens of countries including Arab states, as well as Iran's enemies the US and Israel, extended their sympathies to the Iranian people.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif thanked the international community for messages of sympathy and offers of assistance. "For now, we can manage with our own resources. Many thanks for all the offers and we will keep you posted," he wrote.

In neighboring Iraq, at least eight people were killed and several hundred injured.

The 7.3 magnitude hit Sunday evening around 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Halabja, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The area along the border of Iraq and Iran sees frequent seismic activity due to the 1,500 kilometer fault line between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates.

In 2003, some 31,000 people were killed by a catastrophic tremor that struck the Iranian city of Bam.

Since then, two major earthquakes killed more than 600 people in 2005 and another in 2012 resulted in nearly 300 dead.

cw/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)