(Updated; last posted at 1:56 p.m.)
At least 218 people were killed in Iran and Iraq on Sunday when a powerful magnitude 7.3 earthquake hit the region, as rescuers searched for dozens trapped under rubble, Reuters reports, citing state media in the two countries.
State television said more than 214 people were killed in Iran and at least 2,500 were injured. Local officials told state TV that the death toll would rise as search and rescue teams reached remote areas of Iran.
The earthquake was felt in several western provinces of Iran but the hardest hit province was Kermanshah, which announced three days of mourning. More than 142 of the victims were in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah province, about 15 km (10 miles) from the Iraq border.
State television said the quake had caused heavy damages in some villages where houses were made of earthen bricks. Rescuers were laboring to find survivors trapped under collapsed buildings.
The main hospital of the town was severely damaged and struggling to treat hundreds of injured people, state television reported.
The quake also triggered landslides that hindered rescue efforts, officials told state TV.
A quake registering a magnitude between 7 and 7.9 can inflict widespread and heavy damage. Moreover, many houses in rural areas of Iran are made of mud bricks that can crumble easily in a quake.
The US Geological Survey said the quake measured magnitude 7.3. An Iraqi meteorology official put its magnitude at 6.5 with the epicenter in Penjwin in Sulaimaniyah province in the Kurdistan region close to the main border crossing with Iran.
Electricity was cut off in several Iranian and Iraqi cities, and fears of aftershocks sent thousands of people in both countries out onto the streets and parks in cold weather.
“The night has made it difficult for helicopters to fly to the affected areas and some roads are also cut off… we are worried about remote villages,” Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said in an interview on state television.
Many houses in rural parts of the province are made of mud bricks and are known to crumble easily in quake-prone Iran.
The Iranian armed forces have been deployed to help emergency services.
Iran sits astride major fault lines and is prone to frequent tremors. A magnitude 6.6 quake on Dec. 26, devastated the historic city of Bam, 1,000 km (600 miles) southeast of Tehran, killing about 31,000 people.
Hospital severely damaged
On the Iraqi side, the most extensive damage was in the town of Darbandikhan, 75 km (47 miles) east of the city of Sulaimaniyah in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region.
More than 30 people were injured in the town, according to Kurdish Health Minister Rekawt Hama Rasheed.
“The situation there is very critical,” Rasheed told Reuters.
The district’s main hospital was severely damaged and had no power, Rasheed said, so the injured were taken to Sulaimaniyah for treatment. Homes and buildings had extensive structural damage, he said.
In Halabja, local officials said a 12-year-old boy died of an electric shock from a falling electric cable.
Many residents in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, rushed from their houses and tall buildings in panic.
“I was sitting with my kids having dinner and suddenly the building was just dancing in the air,” said Majida Ameer, who ran out of her building in the capital’s Salihiya district with her three children. “I thought at first that it was a huge bomb. But then I heard everyone around me screaming: ‘Earthquake!’”
Similar scenes unfolded in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, and across other cities in northern Iraq, close to the quake’s epicenter.
Iraq’s meteorology center advised people to stay away from buildings and not to use elevators, in case of aftershocks.
Residents of Turkey’s southeastern city of Diyarbakir also reported feeling a strong tremor, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in the city.
Turkish Red Crescent Chairman Kerem Kinik told broadcaster NTV that Red Crescent teams in Erbil were preparing to go to the site of the earthquake, and that Turkey’s national disaster management agency, AFAD, and National Medical Rescue Teams (UMKE) were also preparing to head into Iraq. AFAD’s chairman said the organization was waiting for a reply to its offer for help.
In a tweet, Kinik said the Turkish Red Crescent was gathering 3,000 tents and heaters, 10,000 beds and blankets and moving them towards the Iraqi border.
“We are coordinating with Iranian and Iraqi Red Crescent groups. We are also getting prepared to make deliveries from our northern Iraq Erbil depot,” he said.
Israeli media said the quake was felt in many parts of Israel as well.
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