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Rescue Workers Continue To Search Through Rubble Following Earthquake In Iran And Iraq


Rescue workers in Iran are trying to dig out survivors from the rubble after a major earthquake struck along its border with Iraq yesterday. Iran says at least 400 people have been killed in the quake and around 7,000 are injured. In Iraq, the death toll is much lower, but thousands are without power and water.

NPR's Jane Arraf joins us from Erbil in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Jane, tell us about the hardest-hit areas. What's happening there?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, Elise, those would be in Iran. So the hardest-hit areas really were a couple of cities and a lot of villages in that mountainous region where you have really a lot of poor farmers. And they live in houses that are made of mud brick, so when this earthquake hit - and it hit at night, so a lot of the children would have been sleeping - a lot of those houses collapsed. There were other buildings like hospitals that collapsed in the cities as well. There were also kerosene heaters that caught fire - just lots of dangers there. So that's essentially what happened, the damage far less in Iraq and a lot greater in those mountain areas across the border.

HU: Jane, what are the rescue workers and agencies doing to help out there?

ARRAF: Well, there are teams from the Iranian Red Crescent. That's kind of equivalent of the Red Cross. I spoke with the spokeswoman for that organization from the Iranian capital in Tehran, and she said two cities and many more villages had suffered the worst damage. And that's where the rescuers are. There are teams of people - another official said 176 rescue teams - that are trying to dig people out of the rubble and provide first aid and then supplies once they do get them out. It's very cold in the mountains. But Iran tragically is used to earthquakes. One of the biggest was in 2003, and that one killed 26,000 people.

HU: So that's the hardest-hit area in Iran. What's happening in Iraq where you are?

ARRAF: Well, in Iraq, near the quake, there was damage that was done to at least one hospital, so patients had to be evacuated to another city. There was a water treatment plant that was set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross that was destroyed. There's really quite a lot of lack of water and a lack of electricity because of damage to one of the dams.

But perhaps on that sort of good news side Turkey, which has had quite tense relations with the Kurdistan region, actually rushed aid to there. I spoke with the Turkish Red Crescent as well, and it's sending thousands of tents, blankets and mattresses. I have to say, Elise, people in Baghdad at least panicked because this really is not a country that's used to earthquakes. And those tremors were felt as far away as the Iraqi capital. Here's Ralph El Hage from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad.

RALPH EL HAGE: People panicked, as you might imagine, because the shaking was very strong. They're telling us that we don't know what to do. It's the first time that we're dealing with an earthquake - men and women panicking, running into glass doors, crashing them just to escape to the outdoors in fear of, you know, the building falling down.

HU: Now, Jane, you're in Erbil in Iraq, maybe about 120 miles from the epicenter. Was there that same sense of fear where you are?

ARRAF: There kind of was. I was in a high-rise hotel on one of the higher floors when the floors and the ceiling actually began to sway sort of like I was on a ship. And I didn't know it was an earthquake because like most people here I've never been through an earthquake. I've been through a lot of bombings, and you kind of know what that's like when buildings sway when there's an explosion nearby.

But this was a whole new ballgame. So when this hit, a lot of people rushed out into the street. Some of them stayed there all night because they were afraid to go back indoors. Here in Erbil there were about 50 injuries reported and people treated in hospital for them, but no deaths reported here.

HU: All right, that's NPR's Jane Arraf in Erbil in northern Iraq. Jane, thanks.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.