KUIK-E HASAN, Iran — In Kuik-e Hasan, a village of 800 people in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, Moadel Yari, 35, stood biting his lip as he recited the names of the family members lost: “Amin, Hajar, Toba, Hajin, Abdellah, Boshra, Ozve, Somron.”
Iranians living near the border with Iraq are accustomed to earthquakes. They live in a region traversed by fault lines, and the destruction that comes when the ground shakes is not something new. And still, no one in this region was ready for the massive destruction and loss of life that occurred when the ground shook on Sunday night.
There are more than 530 dead, a massive loss in itself, but coming to terms with so much death — and the damage to so many structures, in a region of small villages and towns, all at the same time — was that much harder. This earthquake in northwestern Iran was deadlier than the one that devastated Mexico City in September. Tremors were felt as far away as Turkey, Israel, Lebanon and Qatar.
A lone Shiite cleric, wearing a backpack, sandals and his traditional turban, wandered through the flattened village of Kuik-e Hasan on Tuesday. The cleric, Asgar Zarei, had come from the holy city of Qom with other volunteers to help out, but found himself lost in the destruction. “I’m trying to talk to people about God, give them peace of mind — that is all I can do,” he said. “And pray. One can always pray.”
For the Iranian government, which is in a constant struggle to demonstrate that it can, and will, care for its citizens at times of crisis, the earthquake was a test of resources and capabilities. Citizens around Iran watched riveting news feeds on television and social media as survivors used backhoes and their hands to dig through debris in the search for survivors. But for the people in this region the struggle was more elemental — many are living in tents, huddled against the biting cold.