Baghdad: Iranians dug through rubble in a frantic search for survivors on Monday, after a powerful earthquake struck near the Iraqi border, killing more than 500 people and injuring thousands of others in the world's deadliest earthquake so far this year.
The quake, recorded at 9:18 pm on Sunday, was felt as far away as Turkey and Pakistan. The epicenter was near Ezgeleh, Iran, about 135 miles northeast of Baghdad, and had a preliminary magnitude of 7.3, according to the United States Geological Survey. Seismologists in the country said it was the biggest quake to hit the western part of Iran.
Photographs from the region — a patchwork of farms and home to many Kurds, a large ethnic minority in Iran — posted on the internet showed collapsed buildings, cars destroyed by rubble and people sleeping in the streets in fear of aftershocks.
At least 500 people were killed and 7,370 people were injured in Iran, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency, which gave an estimate significantly higher than the death toll of 407 that officials had announced earlier.
At least eight people were killed on the Iraqi side of the border, according to Dr. Saif al-Badir, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, and at least 535 were hurt.
In Tehran, hundreds of people waited in line to donate blood in response to a call from the government. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, delivered a message of condolence on Monday, urging rescue workers to keep searching for survivors.
"The officials should hasten in these first hours with all their might and determination to help the injured, especially those trapped under the rubble," his office reported.
By the evening, however, Iranian officials said that the rescue mission was nearly over, according to the state news media.
Particularly hard hit was Pol-e Zahab, a city in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, according to the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency. The authorities said that at least 236 people had died in the city, which has a population of 30,000, and the main hospital was believed to be at least partly running.
"My friend was screaming, saying, 'I lost my home,' " one resident wrote on Twitter. "Thank God, she and her family are doing well. She said people were only mourning and their loved ones were under the rubble."
Officials from the Health Ministry traveled to the area, as did the commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Ali Jafari, but foreign reporters were not allowed to visit the scene, in a change from previous disasters.
Initial reports from the Kurdish region of Iraq indicated less damage and fewer deaths on that side of the border. In Sulaimaniya, the second-largest city in Iraq's Kurdish region, residents described feeling heavy tremors but said there was no notable building damage.