x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

Iran ends rescue operations, battles to shelter earthquake survivors

State television said thousands were huddling in makeshift camps while many others spent a second night in the open for fear of more tremors

Iran said on Tuesday that rescue operations in areas hit by a powerful weekend earthquake that killed at least 450 people and injured thousands of others are over.

"The rescue operations in the [western] Kermanshah province have ended," Pir-Hossein Kolivand, head of Iran's emergency medical services, said on state television.

Sunday's 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck villages and towns in the mountainous area of Kermanshah province that borders Iraq while many people were at home asleep. At least 14 provinces in Iran were affected.

State television said thousands were huddling in makeshift camps while many others spent a second night in the open for fear of more tremors after about 193 aftershocks.

A homeless young woman in the hard-hit town of Sarpol-e Zahab told state TV that her family was exposed to the night chill as there were no more tents.

"It is a very cold night … we need help. We need everything. The authorities should speed up their help," she said.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered his condolences on Monday and called on government agencies to do all they could to help those affected.

Iranian police, the elite Revolutionary Guard and its affiliated Basij militia forces were sent to affected areas on Sunday night. President Hassan Rouhani will visit the area on Tuesday, state TV said.

Television showed footage of rescue workers combing through the rubble of dozens of villages after the quake. But Iranian officials said the chances of finding any more survivors were extremely low.

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Hospitals in nearby provinces took in many of the injured, state television said, airing footage of survivors waiting to be treated. Hundreds of critically injured people were dispatched to hospitals in Tehran.

Iran's Red Crescent said emergency shelters had been given to thousands of homeless people, but lack of water and electricity, as well as blocked roads in some areas, hindered aid supply efforts.

Local authorities said chaos on roads, caused by people from nearby provinces who were rushing to help, further hampered the flow of aid to quake-hit areas.

"People in some villages are still in dire need of food, water and shelter," governor of Qasr-e Shirin Faramarz Akbari told state television.

More than 30,000 houses in the area were damaged and at least two villages were completely destroyed, Iranian authorities said.

Houses in Iranian villages are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.

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Photographs posted on Iranian news websites showed rescue workers digging people out of collapsed buildings, cars smashed beneath rubble and rescue dogs trying to find signs of life under the remains of collapsed buildings.

"More people will die because of cold. My family lives in a village near Sarpol-e Zahab. I cannot even go there. I don't know whether they are dead or alive," Rojan Meshkat, 38, in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj told Reuters.

Iran is crisscrossed by major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that reduced the southeastern city of Bam to dust and killed about 31,000 people.

The latest quake, centred in Penjwin in Iraq's Sulaimaniyah province in the Kurdistan region, killed at least six people in Iraq and injured more than 68 others. In northern Iraq's Kurdish districts, seven were killed and 325 wounded.