At least 400 people have been killed by an earthquake that struck the Kurdish region of Iraq and Iran, state media in both countries said on Monday.
The 7.2 magnitude quake struck on Sunday night, with ripple effects felt as far away as central Israel.
Photos from the town of Darbandikhan in the Kurdistan region of Iraq show houses destroyed and dozens of injured people pulled from rubble.
In Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq many people reported buildings shaking and lights falling from fixtures. Video showed stores trashed as goods fell from the shelves. “It was like being in a boat in a storm,” one man wrote from the 15th floor of a building. People poured into the streets throughout the city. More than fifty people have been taken to hospital in Erbil with light injuries according to initial reports.
The earthquake’s epicenter was 100 km south of Sulaymaniyah, not far from the city of Halabja, the site of a chemical weapons massacre in 1988. It is the largest earthquake to hit the region since the 7.7 magnitude earthquake in Saravan County, Iran, in 2013 which killed 35 people.
According to the website earthquaketrack.com it is the largest earthquake to hit this border area of Iraq and Iran for more than 100 years. It was similar in strength to the 2011 Van earthquake in eastern Turkey that killed 604 people.
“I was at Madiji Mall on the third floor at a restaurant,” says Paul Iddon, a journalist based in Erbil. “Things started shaking, then the whole building started to move, chandeliers moving, that kind of thing.” Iddon says he paid and left to see what was happening.
“A lot of people panicked and left, but within five minutes everything was pretty much back to normal.”
For some people the earthquake comes on top of many difficulties facing the Kurdistan region in recent months, including clashes with the Iraqi army and feelings of betrayal at the hands of the international community.
“An earthquake hit all four parts of Kurdistan, finally something uniting us,” tweeted local journalist Baxtiyar Goran. Another Kurdish man took the moment to compare natural disasters with the Iranian-backed Shia militias, writing, “My mother told me ‘earthquake is not like Hashd al-Shaabi [Shia militias], when Hashd comes you can flee, but when earthquakes happen there is no place to flee.”
Images from Sarpol, a city of a million residents in the Kermanshah region of western Iraq show mass destruction, and streets full of rubble and dust.
There are concerns that Mosul Dam, upstream from the city, which has been in need of repair for many years, could have been damaged by the earthquake. Its distance from the epicenter, however, makes that less likely than the dam at Darbandikhan – built in the 1950s – being affected.
Darbandikhan’s mayor has called for international experts to inspect the dam.
The historic 18th century Sherwana Castle in nearby Kalar was also badly damaged by the quake.
According to the Iranian Students News Agency in Kermanshah, the Iranian army has been ordered by General Rahim Moussavi to prepare facilities to take in victims.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have also sent equipment and forces to aid victims.
Turkey has also rushed aid to the border. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said 3,000 tents and blankets were being sent by the Turkish Red Crescent into northern Iraq, according to Anadolu News Agency. The AFAD, Turkey’s Disaster Management Agency, is also sending containers full of aid.
“Turkey stands ready to provide search and rescue teams,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our Iraqi brothers and sisters.”
Local journalist Abdulla Hawez noted on Twitter that Ankara had sent aid and rescue teams “while Iraq’s Prime Minister [Haider] al-Abadi has neither offered help nor sent teams.” As of Monday morning Abadi’s office tweeted that he was sending Civil Defense teams to the area.