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After Deadly Earthquake, Iran Declares A National Day Of Mourning


Let's get a picture of life near the Iran-Iraq border after an earthquake. This is a situation where the numbers don't quite express it all, but the numbers themselves are pretty impressive. It was a 7.3-magnitude quake, and the Iranian government says in Iran alone, at least 530 people were killed. Thousands more are without power or water. NPR's Peter Kenyon is on the line now. He's been following the story. Hi, Peter.


INSKEEP: So what are you learning about the experience of this quake?

KENYON: Well, it was felt in a lot of countries - here in Turkey. In Dubai, they say the towers were swaying. And we're checking the accounts of damage - some 12,000 buildings damaged, by one account. And a lot of the worst of it was in western Iran's Kermanshah province - entire villages devastated. This is a very mountainous area, so the survivors who don't have shelter are facing some very cold nights.

The government, for whatever reason, did not allow foreign journalists in immediately following the quake. We've been following the local coverage. On the English-language Press TV, for instance, there's been comments from survivors. Here's a clip with three voices - a man who survived, a young boy and then a doctor describing a patient. Here's what it sounds like.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Through interpreter) We were outside on the street, and suddenly, everything was destroyed. Many houses were demolished.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through interpreter) The wall came down, and I was stuck under the rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Through interpreter) He fell into an empty swimming pool when it jolted. His back is broken.

KENYON: So more than 36 hours after this earthquake, Iran is still trying to come to grips with the extent of the damage and who's dead and who survived.

INSKEEP: Remarkable just to think about the experience of being out on the street, and suddenly, the buildings are falling down around you.


INSKEEP: And then, of course, the rescue effort comes. How's that going?

KENYON: Well, state TV actually said rescue efforts are over. They don't think they'll find any more survivors. Other reports then said heavy equipment was out early in the morning, trying, again, to sift through rubble, but officials do say the chances of finding more survivors at this point aren't really very good.

INSKEEP: So the worst damage was there in Iran, but it's felt, as you said, throughout the region. What happened in Iraq, on that side of the border?

KENYON: Well, actually, the epicenter was in Iraq - near Halabja in northern Iraq. But as we said, the damage was so much worse across the border in Iran - over in Iraq, I think single-digit death toll. There were hundreds injured, and you have problems with damaged buildings, loss of power. But one of those things - the damage was just much lighter in Iraq.

INSKEEP: Peter, what happens when you have a disaster like this, which crosses borders in a particularly tense area? There are not the friendliest relations, necessarily, between the Kurds of northern Iraq and Iran, for example. There's a war going on in Iraq. Does the earthquake affect any of that?

KENYON: Well, I don't know that it affects it immediately. Obviously, the natural response is to want to rush in and offer aid. Turkey did send tents, blankets and food to northern Iraq, which, as we said, has the much smaller death toll and damage. But Iran has so far said, we're OK; thank you; this is terrible, but we really don't need any outside help yet.

The foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said, we can take care of ourselves; we'll be sure to let you know if we do need help. And Iran, of course, has suffered earthquakes for a very long time. There was one in 2003 that killed 26,000 people in Bam, so this is far from the worst they've experienced.

INSKEEP: A reminder of the role that politics plays here - countries may offer aid, essentially, as a way of diplomacy, to improve relations, but at the same time, a country like Iran may decline aid out of national pride and just conclude they can handle it themselves.

KENYON: Yeah, good point.

INSKEEP: Peter, thanks very much. That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.