Iran said it is ready to accept foreign aid to assist survivors of two earthquakes in the northwest after initially declining offers of help.
“Our country has, on various occasions, provided help to victims of accidents in other countries,” Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said, according to the state-run Mehr news agency. “In the current context, we are ready to receive foreign assistance.”
Two earthquakes that struck the northwestern province of East Azerbaijan on Aug. 11 destroyed dozens of villages, killing at least 306 people and leaving thousands homeless, Iranian officials have said. The northwest is home to Azeris, who speak a Turkic language and are the country’s largest ethnic minority.
In the aftermath of the quakes, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said that Iran had declined offers from abroad and would be relying on its “domestic potential” for the relief work. The U.S., Russia and Switzerland are among the nations that have expressed their readiness to provide humanitarian aid.
The government announced it was ending rescue operations less than a day after the quakes struck, saying aid workers had dug out all the survivors from beneath the rubble. The change of decision concerning foreign aid followed criticism from some local politicians as to how relief efforts had been carried out.
Parliamentary member Allahverdi Dehghani criticized the delayed arrival of assistance, saying local people had no choice but to take charge of emergency rescue efforts themselves, according to a report in the Shargh newspaper today.
Another lawmaker, Massoud Pezeshkian, who represents Tabriz, the capital of the quake-hit province, said rescue efforts had been patchy and not efficiently carried out in more remote areas. Pezeshkian cited “mismanagement” as one of the main cause behind the loss of lives, according to the Tehran- based newspaper.
The Iranian government has provided emergency accommodation to 16,000 people and set up 5,600 tents, Mahmoud Mozafar, head of relief and rescue at Iran’s Red Crescent Society, was cited as saying in a state television report yesterday.
Images on Iranian state television showed people in the region sleeping outside in streets and parks, without tents or supplies. More than 55 aftershocks were recorded in the province in the past two days alone, according to the Tehran-based Iranian Seismological Center.
Out of the 4,500 people who were injured, about 1,200 were transferred to hospitals mostly in Tabriz and the rest treated in ambulances and makeshift treatment centers, Gholamreza Masoumi, a Health Ministry official and head of the emergency services, said yesterday, according to the state-run Fars news agency.
Masoumi said he was concerned about a shortage of makeshift toilets and bottled drinking water that could lead to a spread of disease. The corpses of farm animals, some of which were found lying near water sources, could also contribute to an outbreak, he said.
Iran sits on several fault lines and is frequently hit by earthquakes. An estimated 40,000 people were killed in 2003 when a temblor flattened the city of Bam in the southern province of Kerman.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quakes hit within 11 minutes of each other in the late afternoon. The first had a magnitude of 6.4 with an epicenter 12 miles (20 kilometers) west-southwest of Ahar. It was followed by a 6.3-magnitude temblor 19 miles west-southwest of the area. Both occurred at a depth of less than 6.2 miles, the USGS said in advisories on its website.
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