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August 14, 2012

Iran's Quake Death Toll May Rise

by Lisa Schlein

GENEVA — As rescue workers in northwest Iran on Tuesday recovered more bodies three days after two earthquakes killed more than 300 people, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reports that casualty numbers may rise.

The International Red Cross Federation says getting detailed, accurate information from earthquake-ravaged areas of northwest Iran is very difficult.  

The Geneva-based Federation says it is in contact with the Iranian Red Crescent Society, which is running the emergency relief and life-saving operation.

Red Cross spokeswoman Jessica Sallabank says most of the people killed in the quakes lived in remote rural areas where buildings are made of mud and bricks.

She says the destruction and damage is widespread, with at least 180 villages affected.

She says tens of thousands of people are homeless and around 4,500 people injured, some very seriously.

Although the Iranians have called off their search and rescue operation, Sallabank says the number of missing people is not established.

“The Iranian Red Crescent are telling us that people are still coming forward saying they are looking for missing people," said Sallabank. "Clearly, this is a very terrible tragedy with many people killed, injured, many lives destroyed. So the next few weeks and months will be very difficult for those who have been caught up in this. The focus for the Iranian Red Crescent now is how to help people who have been made homeless or have been temporarily evacuated from their houses. New information coming from the Iranian Red Crescent overnight says that they have now provided over 45,000 temporary shelters to people caught up in the affected area.”  

Sallabank says the International Red Cross Federation is offering to assist the Iranian government in its relief effort.   But she says, while Iranian government officials say they are ready to receive contributions from other countries, the Iranian Red Crescent Society has so far not asked for any outside help and is not seeking international funding.  

“It is not that the help is not wanted, it is not needed," she said. "They are a very, very strong national society.  They are one of the world’s best Red Crescents when it comes to dealing with earthquakes.  And as a federation, they are part of our organization and we are just on hand waiting to see if they do need anything and also coordinating any responses from any other national societies.  But, at this point, yes, we are just waiting to see what happens and they do not need our assistance at this point.”  

Iran is prone to frequent severe earthquakes as several major fault lines cross the country.  A powerful earthquake in the city of Bam in 2003 took the lives of some 26,000 people.  An earthquake in Iran’s Caspian region in 1990 killed between 40 and 50,000 people.