(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Relief efforts continue after Saturday’s quake

Relief efforts were continuing on Monday after a devastating earthquake struck northwestern Iran this weekend. The quake, which left hundreds dead and thousands homeless, registered 6.3 on the Richter scale.

"The ongoing relief effort is proceeding smoothly," Mostafa Mohaghegh, director general of the international affairs department for the Iranian Red Crescent Society told IRIN from the capital, Tehran. "Everything is under control," he explained, adding enough food, shelter, water, and hygiene assistance was being provided.

His comments came just two days after a powerful tremor ripped through northwestern Qazvin and Hamadan provinces early Saturday morning, destroying whole communities in the process. According to the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Sunday, the quake resulted in 227 deaths in Qazvin, three in Hamadan, and at least 1,000 people injured. Some 25,000 people were left homeless. Iranian military forces reportedly airdropped blankets, food and medicine to people in the region and were helping residents to set up shelters.

The quake, which centred 115 km southwest of the provincial capital Qazvin, reportedly leveled dozens of villages and was felt as far away as Tehran early Saturday morning, followed by several aftershocks. The strongest four hours later, registered 5.2 on the Richter Scale.

Many of the one to two storey buildings in the affected area were made of mud bricks, collapsing without warning when the quake struck. The same region was hit by a similar quake 40 years ago.

OCHA has mobilised a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team. Two members were deployed on Sunday and another three members would arrived on Monday.

Saeid Ferdowsi, acting disaster officer for the UN in Tehran, told IRIN the worst affected area was Qazvin province in the vicinity of the town of Avaj where 216 deaths occurred, approximately 200 km west of the Iranian capital.

Commenting on the relief operation, Ferdowsi said certain rescue operations were almost concluded, but the necessary food assistance was getting through. He explained that five medical groups, each composed of a physician, one nurse and one environmentalist had been dispatched to the area and medical treatment was being provided at small clinics established. Additionally, teams were working to disinfect water resources, he added. "People are now focusing on building toilets and shelter," he explained.

Tehran has been reportedly inundated with offers of international assistance, including the United States, but maintains the necessary emergency relief items, as well as search and rescue teams, are enough.

"In terms of emergency relief items, we have not appealed for international assistance, but would welcome international contributions related to water, sanitation, health and the rehabilitation of the social infrastructure of the region," Mohaghegh said. "A new assessment of the situation in the coming days should be able to identify details of such needs," he added.

Well prepared, up to 500 relief workers, as well as scores of Red Crescent volunteers, were quick to react to Saturday's disaster. Located in a major earthquake zone, Iran has fallen victim to numerous devastating quakes in the past, often resulting in the deaths of thousands.

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