Sarpol-E-Zahab, Iran – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani launched an investigation Tuesday into why government housing built by his hard-line predecessor collapsed while others withstood a powerful earthquake near the border with Iraq that killed more than 530 people.
In the Kurdish town of Sarpol-e-Zahab, which was reconstructed in the decades since the 1980s war with Iraq, the outer walls of apartment complexes tumbled away in the magnitude 7.3 earthquake Sunday night. The housing was built as a part of the “Mehr” or “kindness” project of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Some now-homeless survivors simply wept outside, while others angrily showed Associated Press journalists the destruction done by the quake.
“Other buildings near our apartment are not damaged as much because they were built privately,” said Ferdows Shahbazi, 42, who lived in one of the Mehr buildings.
She sarcastically added: “This is ‘kindness’ as the name suggests very well!”
Rescuers used backhoes and other heavy equipment to dig through toppled buildings in Sarpol-e-Zahab, home to more than half of the dead. The apartment complexes sit next to lush pastures in the almost entirely Kurdish province of Kermanshah, nestled in the Zagros Mountains along the border with Iraq.
Both rescuers and residents stood on the remains of homes, looking through the rubble. Searchers used dogs to comb the debris — just as they have since Iran’s 2003 earthquake in Bam that killed 26,000 people — although some clerics insist the animals are unclean.
The quake badly damaged the Sarpol-e-Zahab hospital, forcing the army to set up field clinics. The quake also reportedly killed an unspecified number of soldiers in an army garrison.
Aside from the 530 people killed in Iran, 7,817 were injured, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi, who visited Kermanshah on Tuesday, warned that the death toll probably would rise.
“My feeling is that number … will increase since victims were buried in many villages that their exact statistics will be announced in coming days,” he said, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Rouhani inspected the damage in the province and offered his support.
“This was a pain for all Iranians,” he said.
Nine people were killed in Iraq and 550 were injured, all in the country’s northern, semiautonomous Kurdish region, according to the United Nations.
Rouhani himself said the government would launch an investigation into why the state-constructed buildings so easily toppled.
“The faults and shortcomings in the construction of these buildings should be investigated,” he said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
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