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In quake-hit Iranian village, 'people are helping people' as aid is slow to arrive

Ramin Mostaghim and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

QUIK HASAN, Iran -- The residents of Quik Hasan village slept outdoors in the cold and awoke early Tuesday looking for help. Fifty people had died here in a massive earthquake two nights earlier and had been buried by their relatives in makeshift graves.

But when aid workers from the Iranian Red Crescent arrived, they distributed 30 tents -- far too few in this agrarian village of 170 households.

"No state-run enterprise is helping. People are helping people," said Ayasheh Karami, 60, standing amid the ruins of her house. A cousin sat crying on a carpet next to refrigerators, a potted plant, a lone wooden drawer and a few other possessions they had been able to drag outside.

Iran was struggling to deliver relief 48 hours after the worst earthquake to strike the country in more than a decade. State-run media reported that the death toll had increased to 530 people, with 7,460 injured, and officials said it could rise further as they slowly tally victims buried by family members in far-flung villages.

All the fatalities and the worst damage occurred here in Kermanshah, a vast but mostly empty western province that forms part of the country's ethnically Kurdish region. The Red Crescent reported that 12,000 residential buildings had collapsed and more than 500 villages had been affected, with tens of thousands homeless.

The magnitude 7.3 earthquake, which struck near the mountainous Iran-Iraq border Sunday night, also killed 10 people in Iraq and wounded hundreds, officials said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited the hardest-hit city of Sarpol-e Zahab, near the Iraqi border, and pledged to personally oversee the rebuilding effort, which would include loans for housing construction.

"This was painful for all Iranians," Rouhani said. "The government will accelerate this process so that it can be done in the shortest time possible."

In Sarpol-e Zahab, home to about 50,000 people, walls at schools, shops and police stations had collapsed, and people slept on patches of grass outside their homes. Parks had become encampments dotted with multicolored tents as soldiers patrolled to deter looting and anti-riot police supervised the distribution of food and water.

Rouhani's government has not asked for international assistance, leaving the relief effort in the hands of the Red Crescent, a few other nongovernmental organizations, military agencies like the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps -- and individual good Samaritans.

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