Less than 48 hours after a 7.3 earthquake hit Iraq and Iran, authorities in Iran have called off rescue efforts, saying there’s little chance of finding survivors in the country’s quake-prone western region.
“The rescue operations in Kermanshah province have ended,” said the head of Iran’s Emergency Medical Services Pir-Hossein Kolivand.
The official Iranian death toll sits at 530, with 7,817 injured. Most deaths took place in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab whose hospital was destroyed by the shaking along with two entire communities in the area. An estimated 30,000 homes have been destroyed leaving approximately 70,000 people homeless where nighttime temperatures are dropping to just above the freezing mark. This was the deadliest quake to hit Iran in over a decade.
Several Iranian security forces, including the Iranian army, were sent to help the most destroyed towns when the quake first hit on Sunday night. Hundreds of injured were taken to hospitals outside of Kermanshah to be treated.
The country’s Red Crescent relief agency reported that emergency shelters outside the hardest hit areas are prepared to take in thousands of people, but because of blocked roads and a lack of water and electricity, relief work is being hampered.
“People in some villages are still in dire need of food, water and shelter,” said Faramarz Akbari, a local elected official from Kermanshah province.
Sanandaj resident, Rojan Meshkat, fears quake survivors will die from exposure. Meshkat told Reuters, “More people will die because of the 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."
Iran News said that Iranian soldiers, first to arrive in damaged areas, had to use their cell phone flashlights to search for those buried in the rubble.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani visited Kermanshah province saying the government will “use all its power to resolve the problems in the shortest time.” Three days of mourning for quake victims was announced.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has offered condolences and aid to Iran, while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, "The United Nations stands ready to assist efforts to respond to the deadly earthquake that struck Iran and Iraq on Sunday."