Photos by an Observer in Iran show villages levelled by earthquake

 
Now that the search for survivors has been called off, attention is turning to the thousands left homeless by the twin earthquakes that hit Iran’s northwest on Saturday. Our Observer, who travelled to the region Monday to bring aid, took photographs of villagers who have lost everything in the rubble.
 
According to state media – which has come under heavy criticism for not immediately reporting on the disaster that left more than 300 dead – at least 12 villages in East Azerbaijan province were completely levelled, and hundreds of others were at least half-destroyed. Many roads in this remote area were badly damaged, impeding the efforts of relief workers.
 
Several countries, including the United States, have offered their help. However, Iran’s Red Crescent organisation, the equivalent of the Red Cross, says that the country does not need any foreign aid.
 
All the photos in this article were taken by our Observer in the villages of Bajeh Baj and Chobanlar.
 
A destroyed house.
Contributors

“People living there were already incredibly poor before the earthquake”

Saghi Laghaie is an independent journalist from Tehran who travelled to Iran’s East Azerbaijan region to visit relatives there and bring aid supplies.
 
I arrived in the area that had suffered the most damage on Monday morning. Volunteers from the Red Crescent were everywhere, giving people water, blankets and tents. There were also many other ordinary people who had travelled to the area to bring whatever supplies they could find. It was quite incredible how everyone pitched in. There were even a few engineers who built a makeshift kitchen to provide people with warm meals.
 
Lots of people on social networks are now criticising the state television stations, accusing them of having waited too long to start covering the disaster. When I visited the region, I saw some journalists, but most seemed to be working for independent media and had been there from day one.
 
I visited the villages of Bajeh Baj and Chobanlar, which were completely levelled. Local residents were so kind – they even apologised to me that their homes had been destroyed and so they couldn’t host me as a guest. People living there were already incredibly poor before the earthquake, but they still shared the aid they had been given and tried to help each other. I saw one man who had taught in the local school a few years ago and who had rushed there to see what had happened to his students. The children were so excited to see him, but when he asked about other children who weren’t there, they broke into tears.
 
A young girl in tears.
 
“Those left homeless will require more help in the coming weeks, when the cold season begins”
 
Myself, I had collected some money for friends to bring as much as I could. Pharmacies and shops in the area have reduced their prices, which helped a lot. One pharmacy owner, when I told him I was buying supplies for the earthquake victims, even gave me powdered milk and other medicines for free.
 
I think all these supplies will meet the locals’ basic needs for a few more days, but they will require more help in the coming weeks, when the cold season begins. The main question all the locals were asking was, ‘When will our homes be rebuilt?’ And nobody had an answer for them.
 
I hope aid continues to flow in and that this process will stay free of any politics. There also need for more volunteers who speak Azeri, as the local population doesn’t understand Persian well and so it’s difficult for them to express their needs.
 
Aid supplies brought in by volunteers.
 
A girl gives some of her water supplies to a chick.
 
Whole villages were levelled.
 
A local resident. In the background, volunteers distribute aid. 
 
This video, filmed an hour after the earthquake struck, shows someone flipping through multiple state-run television stations. There is no mention of the earthquake on any of these stations. Many of our Observers in Iran complained that state-run stations took over 24 hours to start reporting on the earthquake. 

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