TEHRAN -- As the relief effort continued Monday in the wake of twin earthquakes which devastated a northwest region of Iran, a leading politician criticized state media as providing too little coverage of the initial disaster.
More than 300 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured Saturday when the earthquakes struck the town of Ahar and surrounding villages. Several villages were flattened and thousands have been left homeless.
Speaker of parliament Ali Larijani, a longtime opponent of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, criticized state-run television and radio, saying they neglected coverage the earthquakes.
When the earthquake struck some TV stations were in the midst of commemorating the anniversary of the death of Ali, the first imam in Shiite Islam, and programming was not interrupted to show news of the earthquake. Instead, a ticker at the bottom relayed the news.
“Those who are in charge in the national radio and TV should be more careful and avoid upsetting people, the officials in national TV and radio should indicate to the people that there is widespread sympathy for them,” Larijani said, according to the Fars news agency.
Some worry that the slow national coverage could limit a mobilization of help and relief.
“People desperately need makeshift bathrooms and detergent and soap to take care of personal sanitation,” said one witness in an affected town.
There is a fear of the risk of infectious diseases because of the sanitation in the emergency tent camps. On Monday, after visiting the affected area, the health minister told local media that his department would work to prevent the spread of epidemic infections.
There is also the risk of illnesses such as the flu. The disaster-stricken towns are high in the mountains, where nights are cold.
More than 150,000 survivors have been provided with food, water and medical assistance and 50,000 emergency tents have been erected to house those whose homes have been destroyed or who are too afraid to live indoors as aftershocks continue, said Mahmoud Mozafar of the Iranian Red Crescent. More than 1,000 injured have been treated, he said.
Meanwhile, Hosian Ghadami, the deputy interior minister for crisis management, said during an open session of parliament Monday that the government has agreed to fortify 20,000 buildings in the region to be able to withstand future earthquakes. Iran has a long history of seismic activity and many of the deaths in Saturday’s quake were blamed on shoddy homes crushing their inhabitants.
Even as criticism continued of the response, the head of the Red Crescent in Iran said the nation was not in need of foreign help, though many surrounding countries were quick to offer assistance, the Iranian Students News Agency reported.
“Considering the capabilities of the Red Crescent organization in supplying relief aid to the quake-stricken areas, there was no need to the international aid,” said Pouya Hajian, director general of the group.
-- Ramin Mostaghim
Photo: Ruins of a buildings are seen Monday after an earthquake hit a village near the city of Varzaqan in northwestern Iran over the weekend. Credit: Associated Press / Mehr News Agency/ Armin Karami