Aug 12

Two Earthquakes in Iran kill 250 and injure 2,000

DUBAI: Overcrowded hospitals in north-west Iran struggled to cope with thousands of earthquake victims on Sunday and rescuers raced to reach remote villages after two powerful quakes killed at least 250 people.Iran

Thousands of people huddled in makeshift camps or slept in streets after Saturday’s quakes in fear of more aftershocks, 40 of which had already struck. A lack of tents and other supplies left them exposed to the night chill, one witness told Reuters.

Casualty figures are expected to rise, officials said, as some of the injured were in critical condition while hundreds were trapped under rubble, inaccessible to rescue workers hampered by darkness in the first hours after the quakes.

“I saw some people whose entire home was destroyed, and all their livestock killed,” Tahir Sadati, a local photographer, said by telephone. “People need help; they need warm clothes, more tents, blankets and bread.”

The worst damage and most casualties appeared to have been in rural villages surrounding the towns of Ahar, Varzaghan and Harees, near the major city of Tabriz, Iranian media reported.

Many villages are hard to reach by road, hindering rescue efforts. Hospitals in Tabriz, Ardabil and other cities nearby took in many of the injured, residents and Iranian media said, and there were long queues of survivors waiting to be treated.

Aidin, a Tabriz resident, said he went to give blood at a local hospital on Saturday and saw staff struggling to cope with the influx of patients. Most patients had been taken there by their families, he said, indicating a shortage of ambulances.

Ahar’s 120-bed hospital was full, said Arash, a college student and resident of the town. There were traffic jams on the narrow road between Ahar and Tabriz as victims tried to reach hospitals, he said by telephone.

Villages destroyed

“People are scared and won’t go back into their houses because they fear the buildings aren’t safe.”

The US Geological Survey measured Saturday’s first quake at 6.4 magnitude and said it struck 60 km north-east of the city of Tabriz, a trading hub far from Iran’s oil-producing areas and known nuclear facilities.

The second, measuring 6.3, struck 11 minutes later near Varzaghan, 49 km northeast of Tabriz.

Twelve villages were destroyed and about 60 had more than 50 percent damage in the quakes, Iranian media reported. About 110 villages were damaged, Deputy Interior Minister Hassan Ghadami told Fars news agency.

Ghadami said 250 people had been killed and Red Crescent spokesman Hossein Derakhshan told Fars more than 2,000 people were believed to have been injured.

“We saw some villages that were truly destroyed,” said Sadati, who visited the affected area to document the aftermath. “One good thing was that the earthquake happened during the day, so many people were not in their homes. If it had happened at night the casualties would have been far worse.”

Seventy-one ambulances and 40 units trained to find survivors had been deployed to the affected areas along with more than 5,000 tents, Derakhshan said.

About 16,000 people in the quake-hit area have been given emergency shelter, Red Crescent official Mahmoud Mozafar told Mehr news agency.

Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Hassan-Nejad warned that if relief efforts did not speed up, the death toll would swiftly rise.

“Relief groups have still not reached many villages, because in normal conditions some of these villages are several hours away,” he told the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA). “Currently the roads are closed and the only way to reach these villages is by air.”

Collapsed buildings

Another lawmaker, Abbas Falahi, told Fars rescue workers had not yet been able to reach between 10 and 20 villages.

Photographs posted on Iranian news websites showed numerous bodies, including children, lying on the floor of a white-tiled morgue in Ahar and medical staff treating the injured in the open air as dusk fell. Other images showed rescue workers digging people out of rubble – some alive, many dead.

Iran is situated on major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that reduced the historic south-eastern city of Bam to dust and killed about 31,000 people.

Saturday’s quakes struck in East Azerbaijan province, a mountainous region that neighbours Azerbaijan and Armenia to the north. Buildings in Tabriz, the provincial capital, are substantially built and ISNA reported nobody in the city had been killed or hurt.

Homes and business premises in Iranian villages, however, are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.

Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar has arrived in the area and was holding meetings with local officials to coordinate the emergency response, ISNA reported. Thirty groups of experts have been sent to villages to estimate damage and help residents, a housing official told state news agency IRNA.

Water, electricity, and phone lines in the area of Varzaghan are all down, further hindering rescue efforts, Iran’s bEnglish-language Press TV reported.

Tabriz residents left their homes and crowded the streets following the two quakes, those in the city said. “Everyone was scared last night,” a resident said by telephone. “They set up tents and were sleeping in the streets and in parks.”

Jul 04

Iran test-fires ballistic missile able to hit Israel

The Shahab-3 has a range of up to 2,000 kilometres.

Iran on Tuesday test-fired in its central desert a ballistic missile capable of striking Israel as part of war games designed to show its ability to retaliate if attacked, media said.Iran fired medium range missile.

Iran s Revolutionary Guard fired the medium-range Shahab-3 missile at a mock target in the Kavir Desert on the second day of its Great Prophet 7 exercise, which is due to end on Wednesday, Iran s Al-Alam television network reported.

The Shahab-3 has a range of up to 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), which means it is theoretically able to hit Israel, which is some 1,000 kilometres away.

Al-Alam said two short-range missiles, the Shahab-1 and Shahab-2, with ranges of 300 to 500 kilometres, were also launched.

The Fars news agency said “dozens of short-, medium-, and long-range missiles have been fired from different parts of Iran at a single target in Kavir.”

The ISNA news agency said the last day of the drill would see Revolutionary Guard “bomber drones” also used.

Although the Islamic republic has test-fired its Shahab missiles before, and frequently holds military manoeuvres, it says these war games are aimed at sending a message to Israel and the United States to think twice on their threats of possibly attacking Iran.

The Great Prophet 7 exercise targeted a replica military base set up in a desert and made to look like a foreign facility, similar to those the United States has in neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan.

The launch of the Shahab-3 missile coincided with the day official experts from Iran and world powers were to hold talks in Istanbul to discuss the West s push to have Tehran scale back its sensitive nuclear programme.

Israel, which is not part of the talks, and its ally the United States have both said they reserve the option of launching military action on Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to convince it to curb its atomic activities.

Apr 30

US pastor burns copies of Quran to urge Iran clergyman release

A controversial Florida pastor has burned copies of the Quran and a depiction of the prophet Mohammed to protest the imprisonment in Iran of a Christian clergyman Youcef Nadarkhani.QuranThe burning, attended by 20 people and streamed live over the Internet, was carried out by pastor Terry Jones’ church in Gainesville, Florida on Saturday, The Gainesville Sun said, and video of the burning was uploaded to YouTube by the pastor’s supporting group “Stand Up America Now.”

The Pentagon had urged Jones to reconsider, expressing concern that American soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere could be put at greater risk because of the act, according to the newspaper, but Jones insisted to go ahead with the protest in the name of the release of the Christian pastor in Iran.

Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 and condemned to death under Islamic sharia law for converting to Christianity when he was 19.

Now 34, he is a pastor of a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran. Iran’s supreme court in July 2011 overturned the death sentence and sent the case back to the court in Nadarkhani’s hometown of Rasht, in Gilan province.

His retrial took place at the end of September 2011 with no verdict made public.

Several Western countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and France, condemned the death sentence and said they feared it could be carried out soon.

In March 2011, the US pastor’s assistant burned a copy of the Quran and broadcast the ceremony on the Internet, with the images inciting violence in northern Afghanistan, in which at least 12 people were killed.

Moments after the burning on Saturday, the Gainesville fire department issued the church a citation for violating the city’s fire ordinances, the report said.