Death toll in devastating Middle East earthquake climbs to more than 400

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Associated Press

Rescuers dug with their bare hands overnight through the debris of buildings brought down by a powerful earthquake that killed more than 400 people in the once-contested mountainous border region between Iraq and Iran.

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Yesterday's magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck about 31 kilometres outside the eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, according to the most recent measurements from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake killed 407 people in Iran and injured 7,156 others, Iran's crisis management headquarters spokesman Behnam Saeedi told state TV.

He said most were treated for minor injuries and released, with fewer than 1,000 still hospitalised.

In Iraq, the earthquake killed at least seven people and injured 535 others, all in the country's northern Kurdish region, according to its Interior Ministry.

The number of dead came from the provincial forensic department based on death certificates issued. Some reports said authorities warned that unauthorized burials without certification could mean the death toll was higher.

The worst damage appeared to be in the Kurdish town of Sarpol-e-Zahab in the western Iranian province of Kermanshah, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq.

Residents dug frantically through wrecked buildings for survivors as they wailed. Firefighters from Tehran joined other rescuers in the desperate search, using dogs to inspect the rubble.

The hospital in Sarpol-e-Zahab was heavily damaged, and the army set up field hospitals, although many of the injured were moved to other cities, including Tehran.

It also damaged an army garrison and buildings in the border city and killed an unspecified number of soldiers, according to reports.

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