Friday, March 31, 2006

Relief teams work to reach quake survivors

Relief efforts are under way after a series of earthquakes on Thursday night struck Iran's western Lorestan province, killing at least 50 people and injuring more than 850. The quakes, measuring up to 6 on the Richter scale, occurred between the industrial towns of Doroud and Boroujerd.

"The relief effort is ongoing and Iranian Red Crescent teams are on the ground," Mansooreh Bagheri, programme coordinator for international cooperation for the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS), told IRIN at midday local time on Friday from the Iranian capital, Tehran.

The ICRS had dispatched some 100 relief teams to the affected area, as well as eight teams of sniffer dogs, comprising four or five dogs each, as well as over 50 ambulances and two helicopters.

"A third one will be dispatched very shortly," Bagheri explained.

While over 300 villages in the remote area were reportedly affected, with between 30 and 100 percent of homes damaged, she stressed that an exact estimate of damage could not be made until a more comprehensive assessment of the quake area had been carried out.

Iranian authorities were quoted as saying that the death toll was relatively low because many villagers in the quake zone had spent the night outside after initial tremors forced them to flee their houses. READ MORE

Asked if any international appeal had been made for assistance, the IRCS official replied: "Not yet. We are still awaiting a comprehensive assessment of the situation from the ground."

According to Iran's semi-official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), ambulances, blankets, food, heaters and medicine were the most needed items at the moment.

Most victims were in their beds when the first tremor struck late on Thursday at 23:15 local time, followed by a stronger one at 04:50 on Friday, the report said.

Reuters reported that television images from the area showed brick houses flattened with bent iron girders poking out. An articulated digger lifted broken masonry from one building, while some residents sifted through rubble with their bare hands.

Meanwhile, the BBC quoted one local official, Ali Barani, as saying that the worst hit villages had been completely flattened and those who had managed to escape sought refuge outside.

Earthquakes are not unusual in Iran, which sits on some of the most active seismic fault lines in the world.

The most disastrous Iranian quake in recent years came on 26 December 2003, when a tremor measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale, destroyed the ancient city of Bam in southeastern Kerman province, killing over 43,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.