At least 332 people have been killed and more than 2,500 are injured after a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit the Iraq-Iran border.
The quake hit 19 miles southwest of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan at around 9.20pm on Sunday, when many people would have been at home. More than 100 aftershocks followed.
This morning, Iran gave a provisional toll of more than 328 dead, with further deaths reported on the Iraq side of the border. Tremors were felt as far west as the Mediterranean coast.
The earthquake hit several western provinces of Iran but the hardest hit province was Kermanshah, which has announced three days of mourning. More than 236 of the victims were in Sarpol-e Zahab county in Kermanshah province, 10 miles from the Iraq border.
Footage from the region shows people fleeing their homes into the night and others grieving the deaths of their loved ones.
Mojtaba Nikkerdar, the deputy governor of Kermanshah, said authorities there were ‘in the process of setting up three emergency relief camps’.
Iran’s emergency services chief Pir Hossein Koolivand said it was ‘difficult to send rescue teams to the villages because the roads have been cut off… there have been landslides’.
The official IRNA news agency said 30 Red Cross teams had been sent to the quake zone, parts of which had experienced power cuts.
In Iraq, officials said the quake had killed six people in the northern province of Sulaimaniyah and injured around 150.
Footage posted on Twitter showed panicked people fleeing a building in Sulaimaniyah, as windows shattered at the moment the quake struck, while images from the nearby town of Darbandikhan showed major walls and concrete structures had collapsed.
Residents ran out onto the streets and some damage to property was reported, an AFP reporter there said.
‘Four people were killed by the earthquake’ in Darbandikhan, the town’s mayor Nasseh Moulla Hassan told AFP.
A child and an elderly person were killed in Kalar, according to the director of the hospital in the town about 40 miles south of Darbandikhan, and 105 people injured.
The quake, which struck at a relatively shallow depth of 25 kilometres, was felt for about 20 seconds in Baghdad, and for longer in other provinces of Iraq, AFP journalists said.
On the Iranian side of the border, the tremor shook several cities in the west of the country including Tabriz.
It was also felt in southeastern Turkey, ‘from Malatya to Van’, an AFP correspondent said. In the town of Diyarbakir, residents were reported to have fled their homes.
The quake struck along a 1,500 kilometre fault line between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates, a belt extending through western Iran and into northeastern Iraq.
The area sees frequent seismic activity.
In 1990, a 7.4-magnitude quake near the Caspian sea in northern Iran killed 40,000 people and left 300,000 more injured and half a million homeless. Within seconds the quake reduced dozens of towns and nearly 2,000 villages to rubble.
Thirteen years later, a catastrophic quake struck the ancient southeast Iranian city of Bam, famed for its mud brick buildings, killing at least 31,000 people and flattening swathes of the city.
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.
On the Iraqi side last night, it was reported that the most extensive damage was in the town of Darbandikhan, 47 miles east of the city of Sulaimaniyah in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region.
More than 30 people were injured in the town, according to Kurdish Health Minister Rekawt Hama Rasheed.
‘The situation there is very critical,’ Rasheed said.
The district’s main hospital was severely damaged and had no power, Rasheed said, so the injured were being taken to Sulaimaniyah for treatment.
There was extensive structural damage to buildings and homes.
In Halabja, local officials said a 12-year-old boy died from an electric shock when an electric cable fell during the earthquake.
Many residents in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, rushed out of houses and tall buildings in panic.
‘I was sitting with my kids having dinner and suddenly the building was just dancing in the air,’ said Majida Ameer, who ran out of her building in the capital’s Salihiya district with her three children.
‘I thought at first that it was a huge bomb. But then I heard everyone around me screaming: ‘Earthquake!”.’
There were similar scenes in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region, and across other cities in northern Iraq, close to the quake’s epicentre.
Iraq’s meteorology centre advised people to stay away from buildings and not to use elevators, in case of aftershocks.
Residents of Turkey’s southeastern city of Diyarbakir also reported feeling a strong tremor, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in the city.
Turkish Red Crescent Chairman Kerem Kinik told broadcaster NTV that Red Crescent teams in Erbil were preparing to go to the site of the earthquake, and that Turkeyâs national disaster management agency, AFAD, and National Medical Rescue Teams (UMKE) were also preparing to head into Iraq. AFAD’s chairman said the organisation was waiting for a reply to its offer for help.
In a tweet, Kinik said the Turkish Red Crescent was gathering 3,000 tents and heaters, 10,000 beds and blankets and moving them towards the Iraqi border.
‘We are coordinating with Iranian and Iraqi Red Crescent groups. We are also getting prepared to make deliveries from our northern Iraq Erbil depot,’ he said.
Israeli media said the quake was felt in many parts of Israel too.
The quake was even felt in the Iranian capital Tehran, with some villages hit by power cuts, Iranian state TV reported.
‘The quake was felt in several Iranian provinces bordering Iraq … Eight villages were damaged … Electricity has been cut in some villages and rescue teams have been dispatched to those areas,’ TV reported.
In the province of Sulaimaniyah, located in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, residents ran out onto the streets at the time of the quake and some minor property damage was recorded, a reporter said.
In Iran, ISNA said the earthquake was felt in several cities in the west of the country including Tabriz.
The quake took place along a 1,500 kilometre fault line between the Arabia and Eurasia tectonic plates, a belt extending through western Iran and into northeastern Iraq, the US Geological Survey said.
A 5.7 magnitude earthquake near Iran’s border with Turkmenistan in May killed two people, injured hundreds and caused widespread damage, state media reported.
The last major earthquake to strike Iran was a 2003 tremor in Bam, in the southeastern province of Kerman, which killed at least 31,000 people and flattened the city.
Meanwhile in Japan, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck last night.