Iran Reaches for International Aid After a Devastating Quake

Following the powerful earthquake that devastated 200 villages in the remote mountains of northeastern Iran on Saturday, killing at least 2,000 and injuring more than 5,000, Iran appealed for international aid for the stricken villages and towns, many of them cut off by landslides triggered by the quake.

People slept in the streets of Qaen, shivering in the 41-degree air but too scared to go indoors, fearing that further quakes would strike the region. Ten thousand homes collapsed in the town of Qaen, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said.

The earthquake struck at 12:28 p.m. (4:58 a.m. EST) with a moment magnitude of 7.1, according to the US Geological Survey in Golden, Colo. It was centered 65 miles north-northeast of Birjand, near Qaen, about 70 miles west of the Afghan border.

Most of the damage occurred in the 60-mile stretch between Birjand and Qaen, a region dotted by poor villages and mud huts. The official Islamic Republic News Agency said there was also considerable damage in Afghanistan, but gave no other details. Red Cross and United Nations officials, however, said they had not received reports of major damage there.

"I was outside when I heard the mountain roar like a dragon, and suddenly the air became dark as night from the thick cloud of dust," one survivor, Gholamreza Nowrouz-Zadeh, said.

President Hashemi Rafsanjani, on a visit to Tajikistan, sent his condolences to quake victims and their families, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The government sent four US-made C-130 cargo planes and four helicopters, carrying at least 80 tons of aid to the region, the agency said, quoting Rasul Zargar, the deputy interior minister for natural disaster.

The Iranian Red Crescent has sent 9,000 tents, 18,400 blankets and canned food, rice and dates, Alireza Bokaie, the group's spokesman in Tehran, told the agency Sunday.

Tehran radio said some 200 villages were either destroyed or severely damaged, and 400 relief teams had been dispatched to the area, home to about 40,000 people.

Because many of the narrow dirt roads to the area were cut off by landslides or had collapsed in the quake, helicopters ferried tents, food, and fuel to villages from Mashhad.

The earthquake also was felt in the neighboring provinces of Sistan-Baluchestan, Kerman, and Semnan, Tehran radio said.

It was the strongest earthquake to strike Iran since two powerful temblors hit northwestern Gilan and Zanjan provinces on June 21, 1990. About 50,000 people were killed and 60,000 injured in the quakes, which had magnitudes of 7.3 and 7.7.

The last major quake to hit Khorasan struck on Sept. 16, 1978, killing 25,000 people. That temblor, one of the most powerful to hit Iran, measured 7.7. Iran is prone to earthquakes and experiences scores of small tremors every year.

The moment magnitude form of measuring quakes is related to the size of the earthquake fault and the amount the ground slips, as determined by analysis of seismic waves. The new magnitude values differ slightly from those of the Richter scale, which is no longer widely used by seismologists.

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