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Search for survivors as quake kills 400 near Iraq border

Teams of Iranian rescuers dug through rubble in a hunt for survivors Monday after a major earthquake struck the Iran-Iraq border, killing at least 421 people and injuring thousands.

The 7.3-magnitude quake rocked a border area 30 kilometres (20 miles) southwest of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan at around 9:20 pm (1820 GMT) on Sunday, the US Geological Survey said.

Many people would have been at home when the quake hit in Iran’s western province of Kermanshah, where authorities said it killed at least 413 people and injured 6,700.

Across the border in more sparsely populated areas of Iraq, the health ministry said eight people had died and several hundred were injured.

Iraq’s Red Crescent reported nine dead and more than 400 injured.

Iranian authorities said rescue operations had been largely completed and the government declared Tuesday a national day of mourning.

As dusk approached on Monday, tens of thousands of Iranians were forced to sleep outside in the cold for a second night as authorities scrambled to provide them with aid.

Some had spent Sunday night outdoors after fleeing their homes in the mountainous cross-border region, huddling around fires at dawn as authorities sent in help.

“People’s immediate needs are firstly tents, water and food,” said the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari.

“Newly constructed buildings… held up well, but the old houses built with earth were totally destroyed,” he told state television during a visit to the affected region.

Hundreds of ambulances and dozens of army helicopters reportedly joined the rescue effort after Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the government and armed forces to mobilise “all their means”.

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