TEHRAN — A huge earthquake measuring 7.3 magnitude struck near the Iran-Iraq border area on Sunday, killing 129 and injuring over thousands, according to Iran’s official media Monday.
The quake’s epicenter was located approximately 32 km south of the city of Halabja in a remote mountainous region of eastern Iraq, some 200 km north-east of Baghdad and 400 km west of Tehran, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
The quake hit the area at 9:18 p.m. local time (0018 GMT), when many people would have been at home, the US Geological Survey said.
At least 14 provinces in Iran had been affected by the earthquake.
The worst-hit towns in Iran were Ghasre Shirin in Kermanshah and Azgaleh, about 40 km northwest, Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA said.
It added that 30 Red Cross teams had been sent to the quake zone, parts of which had experienced power cuts.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a phone call with the Interior Ministry emphasized the need for maximum effort from officials.
The governor’s office said helicopters and sniffer dogs could only start working at first light. It was expected there would be more casualties found under the rubble.
Iranian social media was abuzz Sunday night with posts of people evacuating their homes, particularly in Kermanshah and Ghasre Shirin.
Officials announced that schools in Kermanshah and Ilam provinces would be closed Monday because of the tremor.
In Iraq, officials said the quake had killed six people in Sulaimaniyah province and injured more than 150.
The earthquake was felt in many Iraqi provinces in the north and central regions, including the Iraqi capital Baghdad, witnesses said.
Most casualties occurred in the town of Darbandikhan, some 35 km southeast of the city of Sulaimaniyah.
People were killed and injured by the damage of the houses, in addition to a landslide in a mountain adjacent to the Darbandikhan Dam, local report said.
The casualties in Darbandikhan could rise as some houses have collapsed and it is not clear yet whether there were people buried under the debris, Nasih Mala Hassan, mayor of Darbandikhan, was quoted as saying.
The Iraqi Minister of Water Resources warned the people down the Darbandikhan Dam to be in highest alert as the condition of the dam is not clear.
In Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, dozens of people were taken to hospitals.
Some were treated from injuries and others fainted or shocked, said the online newsite.
Many of the injured in Erbil were students who live in dormitories, local health department was quoted as saying.
Saad Maan, spokesman of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, told reporters that cracks appeared in some buildings in central Baghdad, while an old house was seriously damaged.
In Iraq’s eastern province of Diyala, five people were wounded in the city of Khanaqin, some 165 km northeast of Baghdad, due to the collapse of their houses and shops, Head of the City Hall Samir Mohammed Noor told Xinhua.
Faris al-Azzawi, head of Diyala’s provincial health department, told Xinhua that some 140 people fainted due to the earthquake and were sent to hospital, but no casualties were reported so far from the collapse of some houses and buildings.
Turkey’s Health Ministry offered aid for northern Iraq, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Other aid agencies said they were on standby to help.
“Our humanitarian team in Iraq is monitoring today’s earthquake and is on standby to respond,” The International Rescue Committee (IRC) tweeted.
The quake struck along a 1,500 km fault line between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates, a belt extending through western Iran and into northeastern Iraq.
This area sees frequent seismic activity. In 2013, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam, killing 26,000 people.
Since then, Iran has experienced at least two major quake disasters, one in 2005 that killed more than 600 and another in 2012 that left some 300 dead.
More recently, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake near Iran’s border with Turkmenistan in May killed two people, injured hundreds and caused widespread damage. Xinhua-northboundasia.com