AFP: At least 126 people were killed and hundreds more injured when a powerful earthquake hit southeastern Iran early Tuesday, officials said, amid fears that the toll could rise sharply. The quake, which struck 14 months after the Bam disaster, was reported to have devastated several villages, and at least one other settlement could not be reached because of blocked roads. AFP
by Laurent Lozano
TEHRAN – At least 126 people were killed and hundreds more injured when a powerful earthquake hit southeastern Iran early Tuesday, officials said, amid fears that the toll could rise sharply.
The quake, which struck 14 months after the Bam disaster, was reported to have devastated several villages, and at least one other settlement could not be reached because of blocked roads.
“According to our latest information, the quake has left 126 people dead and 500 injured,” Mohammad Javad Fadaye, the head of the natural disaster service in the affected province of Kerman, told AFP.
Television pictures from the stricken area showed villagers scrambling to pull bodies from the rubble of their mud-brick built houses, wailing in distress.
The head of Kerman university hospital, Ali Sharifi, said earlier that 100 bodies had been recovered from the rubble and that 5,000 people had been hurt.
“But many villages have still not been reached by the rescue services, and we think therefore that the toll could go a lot higher,” he told state radio.
The US Geological Survey said the earthquake measured 6.4 on the open-ended Richter scale and was centred on a point 60 kilometers (35 miles) northwest of the city of Kerman.
Iranian television reported the intensity of the quake at 6.2 points and said most of the damage occurred in the Zarand region of Kerman province.
Officials warned that the rescue operation could be hampered by rains in the area that are expected to last until Thursday.
Mohsen Salehi, an official with the natural disasters service in Kerman province said five villages in the region suffered 20 percent to 70 percent damage, and at least one village was completely cut off due to blocked roads.
“Up till now we have sent two helicopters to the scene and another four are preparing to take off,” he added. The government also mobilized two battalions of troops to help in the rescue effort, he said.
Residents were urged to leave their homes for fear of aftershocks.
The governor of the Zarand region said on state television that there were no reports of casualties in the city of Kerman, but the quake had knocked out electrical power there.
Iran sits astride several major faults in the earth’s crust, and is prone to violent earthquakes.
The region hit Tuesday is some 200 kilometres (120 miles) northwest of the ancient city of Bam, where more than 30,000 people were killed when a quake measuring 6.7 points practically razed the city in December 2003.
The Iranian authorities blamed sloppy builders for the size of the death toll in Bam, one of the most devastating natural disasters of modern times.
They have also accused foreign governments of failing to deliver on aid pledges made in the immediate aftermath of the Bam quake.
Iran was hit by violent quakes throughout the 20th century that left at least 140,000 people dead. Since 1991 alone, some 17,600 people were killed and 53,000 injured in about 1,000 quakes before the Bam disaster, according to official figures.
In May last year 35 people were killed and 220 injured in a quake that rocked Tehran and northern Iran.