Rescue workers in Iran resumed work as soon as the sun rose on Tuesday in a search for people who may have survived a devastating earthquake which killed at least 530 people. 

Diggers and other heavy equipment were used to shift the debris caused by the magnitude 7.3 earthquake which struck on Sunday evening. Many residents of the hardest hit town, Kurdish majority Sarpol-e-Zahab, scrabbled to help.

Entire apartment complexes in the town of 30,000 people collapsed. As time passes, hopes of finding survivors are being superseded by fear that many more bodies have not yet been retrieved. 

More than 70,000 people are now in need of emergency shelter in the cold November temperatures. Iranian television showed footage of people weeping next to dead bodies and huddling around fires for warmth. 

President Hassan Rouhani arrived in Sarpol-e-Zahab’s province of Kermanshah on Tuesday to meet with residents and offer his sympathies.

“This was a pain for all Iranians,” Mr Rouhani said, according to a statement on the president’s website. 

The earthquake struck near the Iraq-Iran border (US Geological Survey)

“Representing the nation of Iran, I offer my condolences to the people of Kermanshah, and tell them that all of us are behind Kermanshah.” 

Cleric Abdolhossein Moezi, also touring the area on behalf of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said there was a need for more relief material and “security.” 

Tuesday was declared a day of mourning across the country. 

“We need a shelter,” a middle-aged man told state TV. “Where is the aid? Where is the help?” His family could not spend another night outside in cold weather, he said.

Survivors of the earthquake warm themselves in front of destroyed buildings at the city of Sarpol-e-Zahab in western Iran (AP)

Relief workers said while much aid had been pledged, there was an immediate need for blankets, children’s clothes, medicine and large cans to store drinking water.

Field hospitals were coping with the thousands of injured, although many were being sent for treatment in other cities. 

Sunday’s magnitude 7.3 quake was centred 31 kilometres (19 miles) outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, the US Geological Survey said. 

It struck at a relatively shallow depth of 23.2 kilometres (14.4 miles), which usually leads to broader surface-level damage, and tremors recorded as far west as the Israeli coast of the Mediterranean and as far south as Baghdad.

Across the border in Iraq, the earthquake killed at least seven people and injured 535 others, all in the country’s northern, semi-autonomous Kurdish region, according to its Interior Ministry. 

Many of the heavily damaged complexes in Sarpol-e-Zahab were part of construction projects begun under former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  The disparity in the fatality figures between the two countries immediately drew questions from Iranians, especially because so much of the town was new. 

Iran, which sits on several geological fault lines, is prone to earthquakes. A magnitude 6.6 quake in 2003 killed 26,000 in the city of Bam.

News agencies contributed to this report

Independent

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