BAGHDAD/ANKARA (Reuters) – More than 120 people were killed in Iran and at least several others in Iraq on Sunday when a powerful magnitude 7.3 earthquake hit the region, state media in the two countries said, as rescuers stepped up efforts overnight to find dozens trapped under rubble.
At least 129 people were killed in Iran’s Kermanshah province on the Iraqi border, the provincial deputy governor told state television.
“There are still people under the rubble. We hope the number of dead and injured won’t rise too much, but it will rise,” Mojtaba Nikkerdar said
More than 60 of the victims were in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab, about 15 km (10 miles) from the border.
Kurdish health officials also said at least four people were killed in Iraq and there were 50 injured.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured magnitude 7.3, while an Iraqi meteorology official put its magnitude at 6.5 with the epicentre in Penjwin in Sulaimaniyah province in the Kurdistan region close to the main border crossing with Iran.
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 in an interview on state television.
Many houses in rural parts of the province are made of mud bricks and are known to crumble easily in quake-prone Iran.
A quake registering a magnitude between 7 and 7.9 can inflict widespread, heavy damage.
Local people said in media reports and on Twitter they had felt several aftershocks. Television said schools were closed in Kermanshah and Ilam provinces on Monday.
On the Iraqi side, the most extensive damage was in the town of Darbandikhan, 75 km (47 miles) east of the city of Sulaimaniyah in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region.
More than 30 people were injured in the town, according to Kurdish Health Minister Rekawt Hama Rasheed.
“The situation there is very critical,” Rasheed told Reuters.
The district’s main hospital was severely damaged and had no power, Rasheed said, so the injured were being taken to Sulaimaniyah for treatment. There was extensive structural damage to buildings and homes.
In Halabja, local officials said a 12-year-old boy died from an electric shock when an electric cable fell during the earthquake.
Many residents in the Iraqi capital, 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 the Kurdistan Region, and across other cities in northern Iraq, close to the quake’s epicentre.
Iraq’s meteorology centre advised people to stay away from buildings and not to use elevators, in case of aftershocks.
Residents of Turkey’s southeastern city of Diyarbakir also reported feeling a strong tremor, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties in the city.
Turkish Red Crescent Chairman Kerem Kinik told broadcaster NTV that Red Crescent teams in Erbil were preparing to go to the site of the earthquake, and that Turkey’s national disaster management agency, AFAD, and National Medical Rescue Teams (UMKE) were also preparing to head into Iraq. AFAD’s chairman said the organisation was waiting for a reply to its offer for help.
In a tweet, Kinik said the Turkish Red Crescent was gathering 3,000 tents and heaters, 10,000 beds and blankets and moving them towards the Iraqi border.
“We are coordinating with Iranian and Iraqi Red Crescent groups. We are also getting prepared to make deliveries from our northern Iraq Erbil depot,” he said.
Israeli media said the quake was felt in many parts of Israel too.
Writing by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Rasheed in Iraq,; Parisa Hafezi, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Irem Koca in Ankara, and Dubai newsroom; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Peter Cooney