SARBAGH, Iran (AP) — A powerful earthquake flattened villages and collapsed mud-brick homes in the mountains of central Iran yesterday, killing at least 420 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. 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, who he held in his arms. His 8-year-old daughter lay dead beside him.
Mohammad Javad Fadaei, deputy provincial governor of Kerman, told The Associated Press that 420 people were killed and about 900 injured.
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.
Residents of Khanook village carried bodies to the morgue for washing before burial. Others crowded around lists of the dead posted on the morgue’s wall, breaking into cries if they found a relative’s name.
“I lost everything! All my life is gone!” sobbed Asghar Owldi, 60, his face bandaged. His wife and two children were killed.
A heavy rain hampered rescue efforts, and temperatures dropped after sundown and snow began falling in some villages. Survivors huddled around fires to keep warm, covering themselves with blankets and sipping soup.
Emergency officials tried to evacuate survivors to nearby towns and cities and some 1,500 workers from the Iranian Red Crescent with sniffer dogs and mountain rescue teams fanned out with tents and tarps to the affected villages.
Officials said yesterday’s quake was not a replay of the devastating Bam earthquake in December 2003 because the epicenter was near lightly populated, remote villages. Yesterday’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.
The tiny villages that dot the mountain ranges were hit hard. Kerman’s governor, Mohammad Ali Karimi, said several villages were destroyed. In the village of Sarbagh, near Zarand, nearly 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed.
Iranian television reported that 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 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.
“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.