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Scores Killed When Strong Quake Hits Near Iran-Iraq Border

Nov 13, 2017
Originally published on November 15, 2017 5:47 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A massive earthquake has struck near the Iran-Iraq border. Iranian state media are reporting more than 300 people have been killed and more than 2,000 have been injured. This quake had a magnitude of 7.3. That is significant. And NPR's Jane Arraf felt it. She has been reporting in Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region. Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: So what did this feel like?

ARRAF: Well, it was kind of unsettling. It started with the closet shaking like there was actually something in the closet, and I've never been through an earthquake before, so I thought there was something in the closet. So as I was stepping to the closet to fling it open to see what was what, the floor started shaking, and then the building started swaying. This is a high-rise hotel, and I'm on quite a high floor, and it swayed. And so it was quite a disconcerting experience. Me and a lot of people here have a lot of experience with bombings, so at first I thought that was what it was and the building could collapse. But then I realized it was this huge earthquake.

GREENE: And what's going on in the city? I mean, I suppose people are - have gotten through this but sounds like maybe not everyone is lucky as you in a structure that totally survived.

ARRAF: Absolutely. The worst of this, as it normally is, is in small villages, and most of those villages are in Iran. So the epicenter of the quake was very near the Iran-Iraq border, and in these remote mountain villages in Iran, they have houses that are generally made of mud brick. These are farmers, and they often are one room with maybe a wooden wardrobe. So when the earthquake hit, a lot of these houses collapsed. The furniture toppled. A lot of them use kerosene heaters in the winter, so things would have caught fire, and that indeed is where most of the casualties were.

GREENE: If we're talking about a mountainous region in Iran, I mean, I can imagine this is a place that would be difficult to actually reach to get people help.

ARRAF: That is absolutely part of the problem. So the Iranian government has sent in the army, but the aftershocks triggered mudslides as well, so it's difficult to get to these people. They're still searching for survivors, but it's hard to treat the wounded because even some of the hospitals were damaged. And when it comes to people who weren't wounded, they're without shelter. The Iranian government says it's trying to get emergency shelter to 70,000 people in the mountains.

GREENE: Well - and you're on the Iraqi side. And, I mean, you'd like to think that when there is a natural disaster like this that people put politics aside. But we should say, I mean, there have been a lot of difficult politics in this region, and is that affecting, you know, the recovery effort potentially?

ARRAF: Well, interestingly enough, the Turkish government was one of the first to offer aid to the Iraqis, the Kurds in Iraq, and relations there have been really at a low point. The Iraqi government has also said it will offer aid. That's something it has to do. The damage here hasn't been as heavy, but there are real fears about one of the dams. Now, authorities have told people downstream from that dam that they should evacuate. And certainly, for the many, many people still displaced from fighting from ISIS, this is going to make things even tougher. Most of the - most of the damage here was concentrated - and most of the casualties - in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. So it's run by the Kurds, but they certainly can use help. Help has been offered, but let's see if it actually comes through.

GREENE: NPR's Jane Arraf in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. Jane, thanks.

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