Iran-Iraq quake kills more than 300
7.3-magnitude temblor also felt in Israel and Turkey
TEHERAN: Iranian rescue workers dug through rubble in a hunt for survivors yesterday after a major earthquake struck the Iran-Iraq border, killing more than 300 and injuring thousands.
The 7.3-magnitude quake hit a border area 30km south-west of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday, when many people would have been at home.
The worst affected areas were in Iran's western province of Kermanshah, where the coroner's office told state television that at least 328 people were dead and another 2,350 injured.
Across the border in Iraq, where the areas are more sparsely populated, the health ministry said eight died and several hundred were injured.
Some Iranians spent the night outdoors after fleeing their homes in the mountainous cross-border region, huddling around fires at dawn as the authorities deployed help.
A woman and her baby were pulled out alive from the rubble in the Iranian town of Sar-e Pol-e Zaham, the worst hit in the quake, local media reported.
Officials said they were setting up relief camps but that access to the areas was not easy.
Iran's emergency services chief Pir Hossein Koolivand said it was "difficult to send rescue teams to the villages because the roads have been cut off" by landslides.
The official IRNA news agency said 30 Red Cross teams had been sent to the quake zone, parts of which had experienced power cuts.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the government and armed forces to mobilise "all their means" to help the population.
The quake, which struck at a relatively shallow depth of 23km, was also felt in south-eastern Turkey, an AFP correspondent said, with residents fleeing from their homes.
Reuters reported Israeli media as saying that the quake was also felt in many parts of Israel.
In a statement, Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said: "My condolences to the people of Iran and Iraq over the loss of human life caused by the earthquake."
There were two other relatively minor earthquakes hours apart from each other in Japan and Costa Rica.
Although both did not cause major damage, the 6.5 magnitude quake in Costa Rica led to two deaths from heart attacks linked to shock from the tremors.