A powerful magnitude-7.3 earthquake has shaken the Iran-Iraq border killing 400 people and injuring 7000 in the mountainous region of Iran alone, Iranian state media has reported.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry said seven people in the country’s self-ruled northern Kurdish region also died and 321 people were injured as a result of what is the deadliest quake this year.
Mojtaba Nikkerdar of Iran’s Kermanshah province in the hours after the quake said “there are still people under the rubble”.
“We hope the number of dead and injured won’t rise too much, but it will rise,” he said.
The quake’s epicentre was in Penjwin in the north-western Sulaimaniyah province, within the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region very close to the Iranian border, according to an Iraqi meteorology official.
The electricity was cut off in several Iranian and Iraqi cities, and fears of aftershocks sent thousands of people in both countries out onto the streets and parks in cold weather.
“The night has made it difficult for helicopters to fly to the affected areas and some roads are also cut off… we are worried about remote villages,” Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said.
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Many houses in rural parts of the province are made of mud bricks and are known to crumble easily in quake-prone Iran.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement he was issuing a directive for the country’s civil defence teams and “related institutions” to respond to the natural disaster.
The most extensive damage in Iraq was in the town of Darbandikhan.
More than 30 people were injured in the Iraqi town, according to Kurdish Health Minister Rekawt Hama Rasheed.
“The situation there is very critical,” Mr Rasheed said.
The district’s main hospital was severely damaged and had no power, so the injured were being taken elsewhere for treatment, he said.
There was extensive structural damage to buildings and homes.
‘Buildings dancing in the air’
The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake measured a magnitude of 7.3 at a shallow depth of 23 kilometres.
Many residents in Baghdad rushed out of houses and tall buildings in panic.
“I was sitting with my kids having dinner and suddenly the building was just dancing in the air,” said Majida Ameer, who ran out of her building in the capital’s Salihiya district with her three children.
“I thought at first that it was a huge bomb. But then I heard everyone around me screaming, ‘Earthquake!'”
There were similar scenes in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, and across other cities in northern Iraq.
Iraq’s meteorology centre advised people to stay away from buildings and not to use elevators, in case of aftershocks.
Residents of Turkey’s south-eastern city of Diyarbakir also reported feeling a strong tremor, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in the city.
Israeli media said the quake was felt in many parts of Israel too.