Iraqi Kurds flee village after powerful earthquake, fearing dam could burst

The 7.3-magnitude quake hit on the Iraq-Iran border area on Sunday night, killing hundreds of people and injuring thousands of others

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 November, 2017, 9:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 November, 2017, 9:53pm

Nizar Abdullah spent the night sifting through the ruins of the two-storey house next door in the mountainous town of Darbandikhan in Iraqi Kurdistan after a killer quake hit the region.

“There were eight people inside,” said Abdullah, an Iraqi Kurd, outside the pile of concrete debris where the house once stood.

Some family members managed to escape, but “neighbours and rescuers pulled out the mother and one of the children dead from the rubble”, the 34-year-old said.

The 7.3-magnitude quake hit on the Iraq-Iran border area on Sunday night, killing hundreds of people and injuring thousands of others.

Iran took the brunt of it, with at least 336 people killed and 3,950 injured, while in Iraq the quake claimed eight lives and injured 535 others, officials from both countries said.

The quake hit a border area 30km southwest of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan at around 9.20pm, the US Geological Survey said.

Most people were at home when the quake struck.

“All at once the electricity went out and I felt a strong tremor,” said Loqman Hussein. “I immediately ran out of the house with my family.”

Akram Wali, 50, said many families in Darbandikhan sought shelter with relatives outside the town.

They fled as authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan called on the population in the southern area of the town to leave their homes, fearing that the Darbandikhan dam would burst.

The dam, which spans the Diyala River, is located in Sulaimaniyah province, where seven people were killed, including four in Darbandikhan. One person died in Diyala province.

Authorities in the Darbandikhan region, home to 40,000 people, say the dam has withstood the fury of the quake and did not suffer any major cracks.

Taha Mohammed, 65, has not heeded the call to leave Darbandikhan, even if the quake destroyed his house.

“We ran out and no one was injured,” said the man dressed in the traditional baggy pants of Iraqi Kurds, counting his blessings despite the tragedy.

Iraqi health ministry spokesman Seif al-Nadr said that the quake injured 321 people in Iraqi Kurdistan, 170 others in Diyala province and 44 in the disputed northern province of Kirkuk.

Most of them were treated for shock, he said in a statement.

“The Iraqi government must help the victims,” said Yassin Qassem, whose house was badly damaged by the quake. “We are Kurds but also Iraqis.”

Tensions have run high between the autonomous Kurdish region and the federal government in Baghdad since the Kurds held an independence referendum in September in defiance of Baghdad.

Sunday’s quake was also felt in southeastern Turkey.

Ankara has sent humanitarian assistance to Iraq, including tents and blankets, as well as a medical team, a Turkish government spokesman said.