Iran's summer earthquake leaves 100,000 shivering in tents as winter descends
The Iranian government has failed to rebuild a remote province devastated by an August earthquake, leaving more than 100,000 Iranians in tents as winter arrives.
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Local officials say the criticism – which continues, even as reconstruction is underway – is undeserved.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Iran Quake
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“The problem is that almost all of the 18,600 houses in the area are either totally destroyed or damaged and need to be rebuilt [because] a house with even 30 to 40 percent damage is not safe and should be taken down and rebuilt,” says Khalil Saei, the director general of crisis management for the province who was contacted in Tabriz last month.
More than 300,000 people have been affected, with 233 dead, says Mr. Saei. Losses are estimated at one trillion Iranian rials, or $335 million to $840 million, depending on the exchange rate.
Shortly after the earthquakes, Health Minister Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi categorically rejected complaints.
“We distributed 10,000 tents on the first day and setting up the tent camps was finished in two days,” Mr. Vahid-Dastjerdi told local media. “We determined the fate of every single victim in the disaster within 22 hours, which means the rescue operation was a record good job.”
That wasn’t how it played out in parliament in Tehran, where Mr. Pezeshkian said on Aug. 14, “If the people had not joined hands, had not helped, perhaps this crisis would not have been settled."
“My question is why a level six Richter earthquake should cause this much problem for the country?” he asked.
The “main problem,” he said, was poor management so that relief was inconsistent. While the rescue operation went smoothly in some areas, it was less so in some of the remote areas hit by the quake. “The main problem is the management structure of the country, because we have witnessed that the rescue and aid operation was going on smoothly in some areas, but in some remote areas was not good.”
In Bajabaj, a once-beautiful village which lost 28 of its several hundred residents, mayor Ali Bamdad raised the alarm in mid-September.
“Aid and rescue workers arrived soon and were so helpful,” Mr. Bamdad told local news agencies. “Honestly, the people’s help and aid supply was great at the beginning, it was important and effective on the first days, but it is getting looser and it seems as time goes on, they forget about us.”
Village council member Ali Moharrami said, “We appreciate the government and Red Crescent's aid from the beginning of the disaster, but the people were faster, the benevolent and generous people spontaneously took the lead to help us with urgent necessities. They were amazing."
'No time to lose'
Clean-up operations are underway, and reconstruction has started in places where rubble has been removed to make way for new building. Yet even the clearing away of wreckage has not been without controversy.
Officials ordered construction workers and truck drivers to clear rubble as quickly as possible, and to dump the debris along nearby roadsides.
Ali Mahboubi, a resident from a hillside village three miles along the road, called Choupanlar, complains that the "illogical dumping of the unsorted debris," consisting of muddy bricks, timber and household items, is seriously affecting the irrigation system of his apple orchard and will damage the farm soon. Mr. Mahboubi and his wife anxiously tried to direct the drivers, so that the dumped debris would have the least impact on their riverside orchard.
Mohammad Baghban, the road and construction official in charge of the operation, said speed was critical during a visit last month. "Today we just need to rush to clean up the villages so that reconstruction can start sooner.... We have no time to lose, and should act quicker."
All that is left of Zoleykha Nazari's home in Choupanlar is the rubble that was once her home, and tearfully holds up a broken dish to a visitor. Her husband is critically ill, and winter is almost here.
“It is cold even now, but still more is to come. This village especially gets cold quite early and we can’t survive in the tents,” says Mrs. Nazari, wiping away tears. “It is really hard, time is passing, and I am thinking how I can care for an ill husband in a tent…. The villagers here are all together helping each other, but everybody is facing a difficult situation. We lost everything.”