TEHRAN, Iran — Rescuers dug with their bare hands Monday through the debris of buildings brought down by a powerful earthquake that killed more than 400 people in the once-contested mountainous border region between Iraq and Iran, with nearly all of the victims in an area rebuilt since the end of the ruinous 1980s war.
Sunday night's magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck about 19 miles (31 kilometers) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the most recent measurements from the U.S. Geological Survey. It hit at 9:48 p.m. Iran time, just as people were going to bed.
The worst damage appeared to be in the Kurdish town of Sarpol-e-Zahab in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq.
Residents fled into the streets as the quake struck, without time to grab their possessions, as apartment complexes collapsed into rubble. Outside walls of some complexes were sheared off by the quake, power and water lines were severed, and telephone service was disrupted.
Residents dug frantically through wrecked buildings for survivors as they wailed. Firefighters from Tehran joined other rescuers in the desperate search, using dogs to inspect the rubble.
The hospital in Sarpol-e-Zahab was heavily damaged, and the army set up field hospitals, although many of the injured were moved to other cities, including Tehran.
It also damaged an army garrison and buildings in the border city and killed an unspecified number of soldiers, according to reports.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei immediately dispatched all government and military forces to aid those affected.
Many of the heavily damaged complexes in Sarpol-e-Zahab were part of construction projects under former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The newly homeless slept outside in cold, huddled around makeshift fires for warmth, wrapped in blankets — as were the dead.
The quake killed 407 people in Iran and injured 7,156 others, Iran's crisis management headquarters spokesman Behnam Saeedi told state TV. He said most were treated for minor injuries and released, with fewer than 1,000 still hospitalized.
The number of dead came from the provincial forensic department based on death certificates issued. Some reports said authorities warned that unauthorized burials without certification could mean the death toll was higher.
In Iraq, the earthquake killed at least seven people and injured 535 others, all in the country's northern, semiautonomous Kurdish region, according to its Interior Ministry.
The disparity in the fatality figures immediately drew questions from Iranians, especially because so much of the town was new.
The earthquake struck 14.4 miles (23.2 kilometers) below the surface, a shallow depth that can have broader damage. Magnitude 7 earthquakes on their own are capable of widespread, heavy damage.
The quake caused Dubai's skyscrapers to sway and could be felt 1,060 kilometers (660 miles) away on the Mediterranean coast. Nearly 120 aftershocks followed.
Kokab Fard, a 49-year-old housewife in Sarpol-e-Zahab, said she could only flee empty-handed when her apartment complex collapsed.
"Immediately after I managed to get out, the building collapsed," Fard said. "I have no access to my belongings."
Reza Mohammadi, 51, said he and his family ran into the alley following the first shock.
"I tried to get back to pick some stuff, but it totally collapsed in the second wave," Mohammadi said.
Khamenei offered his condolences as President Hassan Rouhani's office said Iran's elected leader would tour the damaged areas Tuesday. Authorities also set up relief camps and hundreds lined up to donate blood in Tehran, though some on state television complained about the slowness of aid coming.
What To Do If You See Wildlife
Do not approach them. Avoid black bears and mountain lions and give them the space to avoid you. If you surprise a black bear, back away without making eye contact, don’t run. If a bear notices you, talk calmly and stand your ground while waving your arms. Keep dogs leashed. If you see a mountain lion, do not run, crouch or turn your back. If necessary with a mountain lion, make noise, try to look bigger by waving your arms or opening your jacket. Prevention is key, but if attacked, fight back. (California Department of Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service)
Who to call: Call 911 if there is an active threat. Wildlife sightings can be reported to the Department of Fish and Wildlife by phone at 707-528-2002 or online at apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir