A 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the border between Iraq and Iran Sunday night, sparking landslides and killing over 500 people. Nearly 8,000 were injured, according to BBC news.
The quake was felt as far away as Turkey and Israel, while the worst damage was on the Iranian side of the border, where rescue crews were still working Monday to reach isolated villages that had been cut off by landslides. By Tuesday, the death toll had risen to 540. In Kermanshah province of Iran, which hit the hardest, hundreds of homes were destroyed.
200 aftershocks have hit the region since then, following what was the strongest and deadliest quake on earth this year. They reportedly averaged about 3 strong aftershocks per hour, spreading panic after the initial destructive tremors.
In Iran, thousands of survivors have been forced to sleep in makeshift camps or out in the open, with night-time temperatures falling to near freezing.
Ali Gulani, 42, who lives in the town of Qasr-e-Shirin in Kermanshah province, described conditions in the days after the quake to the BBC:
“We are living in a tent and we don’t have enough food or water. You can hear children crying, it’s too cold. They are holding on to their parents to warm themselves – it’s pretty bad.”
Seven people were killed in the Kurdish region of Iraq, on the other side of the border, and 300 were injured.
The earthquake was Iran’s worst since 2005, when a quake in the southeastern region of the country killed 612.
Iran’s government said the army, militia, and Revolutionary Guard Corps were all being mobilized to help with relief and rescue efforts.
“It is the duty of the authorities in these first hours with all their determination and ability to help the injured, especially those trapped under the rubble,” said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini.
President Hassan Rouhani also visited the region on Tuesday, commenting that state-built homes seemed to have suffered worse damage than private buildings, asking “Who is to be blamed for this? Our engineers?”
He promised to hold any responsible parties accountable if they had failed to uphold building standards.
“Newly constructed buildings… held up well, but the old houses built with earth were totally destroyed,” according to Maj Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. He added that the most immediate needs were water, food, and tents.
The epicenter of the quake was about 30 kilometers south of Darbandikhan, Iraq, striking at 18:18 GMT on Sunday.