Magnitude 6.4 Earthquake Kills 370 in Iran

02-22-05 - SARBAGH, Iran(AP) - A powerful earthquake flattened villages and collapsed mud-brick homes in central Iran on Tuesday, killing at least 370 people and injuring hundreds.

In a cold rain, survivors dug frantically through slabs of concrete and piles of dirt, searching for loved ones buried under the rubble of destroyed homes. Footage on Iranian television showed survivors slapping their faces in grief as they sat beside dead relatives wrapped in blankets.

"Where have you gone? I had a lot of plans for you," Hossein Golestani sang softly to his lifeless 7-year-old daughter, held in his arms. His 8-year-old daughter lay dead beside him.

State-run Iranian television cited medical forensic officials in the province saying the death toll "has surpassed 370."

The magnitude-6.4 quake was centered on the outskirts of Zarand, a town of about 15,000 people in Kerman province 600 miles southeast of Tehran, according to the seismological unit of Tehran University's Geophysics Institute.

It struck the mountainous region at 5:55 a.m., damaging at least 40 villages with a total population of about 30,000 people, officials said.

Heavy rain hampered rescue efforts, and temperatures were expected to turn bitterly cold after nightfall, compounding the misery. Emergency officials tried to evacuate survivors to nearby towns and cities.

Officials said Tuesday's quake was not a replay of the devastating Bam earthquake in 2003 because the epicenter was near lightly populated, remote villages. Tuesday's quake was also much deeper — 25 miles underground. The 6.6-magnitude quake that flattened Bam and killed 26,000 people was six miles underground.

While homes made of mud collapsed, cement buildings did not appear heavily damaged.

Still, the tiny villages that dot the mountain ranges were hit hard. In the village of Sarbagh, near Zarand, nearly 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed.

Kerman's governor, Mohammad Ali Karimi, told state-run television that several villages had been destroyed and hundreds of people were injured.

Iranian television reported all hospitals in Zarand were filled to capacity with the injured, showing elderly women and men lying on beds and victims wrapped in bloody bandages or with broken bones.

The governor of Zarand told state-run television that power in the region has been disrupted, and supplies — especially medicine, syringes and tents — were needed.

The Iranian Red Crescent told international relief officials it did not need outside aid, said Roy Probert, a spokesman for the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Some 1,500 workers from the Iranian agency, along with search dogs and mountain rescue teams, reached all the affected villages and were rushing in tents and tarps, Probert said.

"They seem to have the situation well in hand," Probert told The Associated Press.

Relief officials said they learned many lessons from the Bam quake.

"The earthquake in 2003 gave us a very good experience of how to deal with such a natural disaster. Despite the rain, relief operations are going smoothly. Relief teams have reached the villages and are helping the survivors," Soltani said.

Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. It experiences at least one slight earthquake every day on average.