Death Toll at 250, Over 2,000 Injured in East Azerbaijan Earthquakes
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI and DAN GEIST
Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English.
12:05 p.m. IRDT, 22 Mordad/August 12 A 13th major aftershock, of magnitude 4.4, was recorded at 11:10 a.m. (the U.S. Geological Survey’s notation of 10:10 a.m. does not take into account the local adjustment for daylight savings time). This latest earthquake occurred 18 miles northwest of Ahar and is the most northern in the series of now 15 quakes of magnitude 4.0 or greater that have shaken Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.
Moharram Foroughi, governor of Varzagan County, where the two primary quakes struck yesterday, tells the Islamic Republic News Agency that there were no deaths in the county seat of Varzagan, a town whose population was just over 3,500 in the census taken six years ago. Foroughi said that 50 people had been killed and more than 500 wounded in nearby villages. According to the governor, while 500 tents have been distributed to people displaced by the quake in the area, another 1,200 are required and there is an urgent need for food in the affected region.
10:25 a.m. IRDT, 22 Mordad/August 12 Tehran Bureau contributor Ali Chenar files the following report:
Sunday morning, many Iranians woke up to the news of the devastating earthquakes in East Azerbaijan province. While many rush to donate blood, cash, and necessities, some have decided to travel to the region to get news from their families and loved ones. Telecommunications are down in Varzagan County and there appears to be an acute shortage of medical assistance in the quake-stricken area.Amid this national disaster many Iranians, independent of their political affiliations, are highly critical of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). It did not interrupt its scheduled programs marking the holy nights of Qadr during Ramadan to report the news of the earthquakes; when it finally did cover the mounting disaster, it did not do so as breaking news, but downplayed its size and significance, reporting only “a few casualties.”
The state broadcaster’s response to the earthquakes has sparked angry reactions from many quarters. According to a statement on the conservative Tabnak news website, “Since no one cares to announce an official mourning, we at Tabnak announce that we are in mourning for the victims of the recent earthquakes.” The website invited comments from its readers, a large number of whom state that they learned of the earthquake not from IRIB but rather from BBC Persian TV. The reformist Digarban website observed that this is the first time IRIB has downplayed a national disaster in such a manner. For many of the victims of the earthquake and their extended families, this means that they have to rely largely on the rumor mill and foreign news coverage for reports on their home towns and villages.
A 12th major aftershock, of magnitude 4.0, was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey at 8:55 a.m. local time approximately 17 miles south-southwest of Ahar. Unlike the two primary temblors and the first 11 major aftershocks, all of which took place at depths between 9.7 and 10 kilometers below the earth’s surface, Sunday morning’s quake occurred at an estimated depth of only 5.2 kilometers.
9:10 a.m. IRDT, 22 Mordad/August 12 According to Press TV, the English-language subsidiary of the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting network, 250 people are now reported to have been killed as a consequence of the earthquakes that struck northwestern Iran on Saturday. Over 2,000 people are said to be injured. In addition to the webpages linked at the bottom of this item, more images of the damage caused by the quakes and the ongoing rescue operations are available here, here, here, and here.
5:00 a.m. IRDT, 22 Mordad/August 12 At least 182 people have been killed and 1,500 injured by two large earthquakes that struck northwestern Iran Saturday afternoon. The quakes, measured at magnitudes of 6.4 and 6.3 according to the United States Geological Survey, struck 36 and 30 miles, respectively, northeast of Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan province; Ahar, a city of 95,000 people, is located just 14 miles northeast of the first quake’s epicenter.
The first quake occurred at 4:53 p.m. local time; the second, 11 minutes later. As of this item’s publication, the U.S. Geological Survey had recorded 11 powerful aftershocks of magnitude 4.0 or greater, the most intense taking place ten hours after the initial quake and registering at 5.1. The Geophysics Center of the University of Tehran recorded dozens of smaller aftershocks. Reports indicate that while Tabriz did not sustain significant damage, Ahar and many villages and small towns in the earthquake-stricken zone around the two cities have been devastated. Most of the casualties so far have been recorded in two counties around the quakes’ epicenters, Varzagan and Haris.
Khalil Saei, head of East Azerbaijan’s crisis management center, told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) that the structures in six villages around Ahar have been completely destroyed and 50-70 percent of 60 additional villages are in ruins, encompassing about 25,000 people. The roads to at least four villages have been damaged so badly that they cannot be reached by land vehicles. As of 2 a.m. local time, rescue services had still not reached at least ten villages near the heart of the affected region.
Several natural gas pipelines have exploded in Ahar, causing further damage, and the supply of gas has been cut off to approximately 70 villages in the surrounding area. All communication lines, including phones, with Varzagan have been severed as a result of the earthquakes. Tabriz lost almost all electrical power, but it has been restored.
According to Seyyed Hossein Saberi, governor-general of neighboring Ardabil province, several earthquakes shook various parts of Ardabil, injuring about 50 people. The town of Astara in Gilan province, near the borders of Ardabil and the Republic of Azerbaijan, was reportedly hit by a sizable quake. And there were reports that the cities of Salmas, Mahabad, and Miandoab in West Azerbaijan were also shaken by the tremors.
Mahmoud Mozaffar, head of the Red Crescent Society of Ahar, told ISNA that 210 people had been rescued there and in Varzagan. Fifteen teams of rescue dogs were searching for survivors, while three helicopters aided the rescue operations. Police have called on citizens not to use the Ahar-Tabriz highway, so that rescue teams can reach the stricken areas more swiftly. It also urged people not to spend Saturday night at home, but to stay in open areas in the event of further strong aftershocks. Dr. Mohammad Gheytanchi, director of earthquake research at the University of Tehran’s Geophysics Center, warned that aftershocks may be expected for up to 48 hours after the first major temblor. He added that it is not yet clear precisely which geological fault produced the earthquakes.
Over the past four decades, the closest major earthquake was one that occurred approximately 65 miles to the east in Ardabil on February 28, 1997; at least 850 people were killed and 2,600 people were injured in the quake, described by the Iranian government as of 5.5 magnitude and by the U.S. Geological Survey as 6.1.
Source: Tehran Bureau
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