AID agencies have rushed into action after a 7.3-magnitude earthquake on the Iran-Iraq border on Sunday killed at least 440 and injured thousands more.
The worst of the devastation was felt in Iran, particularly in the western province of Kermanshah. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed, and rescuers have been slow to reach the survivors, who are struggling to survive in below-zero temperatures overnight without shelter.
World Vision’s response director in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Ian Dawes, said that his charity was still trying to assess the scale of the disaster.
“The area where it happened is relatively remote and so it is likely to take some time to get a picture of the full extent of the damage.
“We are deeply concerned for children who would have been at home and in bed at the time the quake struck. We will be working with the authorities and district emergency responders to find out if, and where, help is needed and, if the situation demands it, we will assist.”
On Tuesday, a World Vision mobile clinic reached the northern Iraqi town of Darbandikhan, whose hospital was badly damaged in the earthquake.
The charity’s communications manager for the Iraqi Kurdish Region, Rebekah Price, said: “Driving through the town of Darbandikhan, the team was shocked to see the number of damaged properties. Some buildings are just totally pancaked.
“Our mobile team of medics rushed to assist in Darbandikhan after a request from the health authorities, following the collapse of parts of the town’s hospital. Our staff have been treating some of the minor injuries and providing triaging support, with more serious cases being passed to the hospital, which is struggling to cope.
“We have staff on hand to also provide psychological first aid. People were still very unsettled today.”
Across the border in Iran, there is growing anger at how many recently built government homes for the poor collapsed during the earthquake, compared with older privately built structures.
During a visit to the worst-hit region, the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, said live on TV that he would “find the culprits” who had allowed flimsy houses to be built with state money.
“”Pay attention, please, that some of these houses are very new, some of them have been built by the government and they are not very old,” President Rouhani said. “However, you can see that some buildings collapsed. How could that happen?
“These are the issues that we should follow; we should find the culprits, and people are waiting for us to introduce the culprits. We will do that, we will do that.”
Some Iranians have blamed the cheap housing programme Mehr, set up by the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which built two million homes for poorer citizens.
The Iran Red Crescent organisation told the BBC that at least 12,000 residential buildings had collapsed during the earthquake. The Red Crescent has deployed 174 rapid-rescue response teams to the region, both to help dig survivors out of the rubble and to provide medical supplies, blankets, and tents to those who made it out alive. Other pressing needs include cans for storing drinking water, and children’s clothes, aid agencies reported.
Pope Francis has sent a message to the survivors, assuring them of his “prayerful solidarity”. The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, sent messages to Iraq and Iran, expressing the Pope’s sorrow for those who had lost loved ones, and invoking “the divine blessings of consolation and strength” for everyone involved in the rescue and recovery efforts.