Iran Foreign Minister accuses US of 'economic terrorism' as flood-hit cities evacuated

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that US sanctions are "impeding aid efforts by #IranianRedcrescent to all communities devastated by unprecedented floods".
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that US sanctions are "impeding aid efforts by #IranianRedcrescent to all communities devastated by unprecedented floods".PHOTO: REUTERS

TEHERAN (AFP) - Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the United States of impeding aid efforts and "economic terrorism" on Monday (March 1) as the authorities ordered the immediate evacuation of flood-stricken cities in western Iran.

US sanctions are "impeding aid efforts by #IranianRedcrescent to all communities devastated by unprecedented floods," Mr Zarif tweeted, referring to search and rescue operations being conducted after huge rainfalls triggered vast flooding.

"Blocked equipment includes relief choppers," the tweet read, adding that "this isn't just economic warfare; it's economic terrorism."

The evacuation was ordered after rivers burst their banks, dams overflowed and vast areas were cut off from communication.

A chronic shortage of rescue helicopters in Iran, due to US sanctions, has forced the emergency services to request help from military helicopters and amphibious armoured personnel carriers to assist in the rescue operations.

The authorities declared a "situation red", the highest level of alert, in Lorestan province with four or five cities "completely critical", state television news network IRINN reported from Khorramabad, the region's capital.

"In Khorramabad, the water has risen by as much as 3m in parts... and reports are coming in of regions... completely submerged with residents stranded on their rooftops," it added.

The Red Crescent's provincial director, Mr Sarem Rezaee, said his organisation had lost contact with much of the region.

"Telephones are not working, our radio communications are down... at this moment, we have no news of other cities and villages," he told IRINN, adding roads were flooded and helicopters were unable to take off due to the bad weather.

"We have requested emergency help from neighbouring provinces but at the present, no one can do anything."

The airport in the western city of Khorramabad was flooded, with images showing water submerging the runway and cutting the province's main air link to the rest of the country.

The authorities in Lorestan ordered evacuations in many regions, bringing in the armed forces to forcibly remove those who do not comply, local media reported.

'LOST ALL CONTACT'

The authorities said Pol-e-Dokhtar and Mamulan cities were already half submerged, with one fatality reported in Mamulan.

Images on local media show water gushing through streets in Pol-e-Dokhtar where the water level had reached 1.5m.

Every village in the vicinity of the two cities had been surrounded by flood waters while all five dams in Lorestan had reached capacity and four of them were overflowing.

"We have lost all contact with Pol-e-Dokhtar," the Lorestan Governor General Mousa Khademi told the semi-official ISNA News Agency.

"We do not have any information on the situation there... We do not know how many people have been affected by the floods," he added.

Numerous rivers had burst their banks and landslides blocked many roads, said the reports.

Media outlets showed images of collapsed bridges and oil and gas pipelines destroyed by the flood.

The main railway line linking Teheran to the south of the country had also been blocked by the flood.

This is the third major flood to hit Iran in the past two weeks, with unprecedented rainfalls in the mostly arid country that had endured a decades-long drought until this year.

The first occurred in the north-east of the country on March 19 and the second struck the west and south-west of Iran on March 25, with a combined toll of 45 people killed.

The present flood has again struck in the west and south-west following heavy rain that is set to continue into Tuesday.

Apart from Lorestan, half a dozen other provinces are also facing critical circumstances, with the emergency services reporting 23 out of Iran's 31 provinces have been affected and could face floods.

With the consecutive floods the reservoirs of many dams have reached full capacity forcing emergency discharge, as much as 1,800 cubic metres per second in some cases, to prevent them from breaking.