by Chas Danner
A pair of dangerously shallow earthquakes struck a rural and mountainous region of northwest Iran on Saturday, killing at least 300 and injuring thousands:
The majority of casualties were women and children whose houses had collapsed on them, reported Iranian media. The earthquake occurred at 5 p.m., when most women and children were preparing for the nightly Iftar dinner, which breaks the Muslim daytime fast during the current month of Ramadan.
Although officials announced on Sunday, less than 24 hours after the disaster, that search and rescue operations had finished and all survivors had been freed from the rubble, some residents expressed disbelief that authorities could have reached some of the most remote villages so soon. "I know the area well. There are some regions where there are villages that you can't even reach by car," one doctor in the city of Tabriz told Reuters by telephone on Monday, declining to give his name because of the sensitivity of the issue. "It's not possible for them to have finished so soon."
There has also been widespread criticism of how the state media has handled the disaster. More images of the aftermath can be found at the Big Picture. Meanwhile, there is concern among Iranians living in countries like the US that they will not be able to offer assistance to those affected because of Western sanctions. Following the devastating 2003 earthquake in the Iranian city of Bam, the Bush administration did temporarily lift some sanctions to allow Americans to help, but it is as of yet unknown how or if the Obama administration will respond to such requests.
(Photo: An Iranian resident from the village of Baje-Baj, near the town of Varzaqan, stands on top of the rubble of his destroyed home on August 12, 2012, as rescue workers search for survivors, after twin earthquakes hit northwestern Iran on August 11. By Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)