Quake-hit Taiwan city winds down rescue efforts, five still missing

A body of a Hong Kong Canadian is carried out from a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018.

By Fabian Hamacher and Natalie Thomas

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Rescue operations in Taiwan started to wind down on Friday after a devastating 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the tourist area of Hualien this week, taking a toll of 12 dead and five missing.

More than 270 people were injured when Tuesday’s quake hit the eastern coastal city just before midnight, toppling four buildings, ripping large fissures in roads and unleashing panic among the roughly 100,000 residents.

More than 200 aftershocks followed, hampering a round-the-clock rescue effort in which emergency personnel battled rain and cold to comb rubble in a search for survivors.

Efforts on Friday narrowed to finding five Chinese nationals still missing after rescuers pulled two bodies, identified as Canadian citizens from Hong Kong, out of a 12-storey residential building that had been left tilting at a 45-degree angle.

An excavator demolishes collapsed Marshal hotel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018.

An excavator demolishes collapsed Marshal hotel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Authorities said they would focus their search on the single building where the five missing were believed to be.

“The military will continue to prioritize today rescuing the missing people in the Yun Men Tsui Ti residential building,” it said in a statement.

The building’s extreme displacement made the search tough, the government said in a statement, adding, “The space for our operations is small, so the progress of search and rescue can be slow.”

Power was restored to all affected areas in Hualien, although 8,500 homes are still without water.

The military will work with local government officials to develop a plan to demolish a hotel, a residential building and other dangerous buildings, it said in its statement.

The government vowed to redouble efforts to revise building regulations, aiming to limit damage in any future episodes.

Taiwan revised its building act on Jan. 30 to strengthen investigations of the structures of existing buildings and inspection of completed projects, the interior ministry said on Friday.

The revision, expected to be discussed by a cabinet meeting at the end of February, would also seek third-party views in building assessments, it said.

The government added that it would hasten reconstruction of old buildings to make them earthquake-resistant and work to boost the safety of other structures in affected areas.

“At every stage, the central government will fully assist local governments,” it added.

 

(Additional reporting by Tyrone Siu; Writing by Jess Macy Yu; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Clarence Fernandez)

Earthquake-hit Taiwan city still on edge as rescuers hunt survivors

A rescuer speaks on the radio as he searches for survivors at collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018.

By Yimou Lee

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Scores of aftershocks hampered rescue efforts on Thursday as emergency personnel combed through collapsed buildings in search of survivors after a powerful earthquake killed at least 10 people near Taiwan’s tourist city of Hualien.

The coastal city was hit on Tuesday by a magnitude 6.4 quake just before midnight (11.00 a.m ET) that injured 270 people. Four buildings collapsed, officials said, and seven people were still missing.

Volunteers pray outside a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018.

Volunteers pray outside a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Rescuers stepped up efforts at one of the worst-hit structures, a 12-storey building that housed apartments and a small hotel, where authorities believe most of those still missing to have been, including several foreigners.

Thick steel girders propped up the heavily leaning structure to keep it from collapsing further, with the lower floors having already caved in.

“Everyone was surprised,” said Huang Chang Po, the 58-year-old owner of a unit in the building, built in 1994.

“We have strong earthquakes all the time in Hualien and it’s really bizarre that our building collapsed,” he told Reuters.

Up to 100 soldiers, rescuers, police, aid workers and volunteers scrambled in the cold and rain outside to find survivors, as excavators cleared away debris.

At an emergency meeting on Thursday, other residents and owners raised concerns about possible recent modifications and demanded a structural check by engineers to determine the cause of the collapse.

It was too early to ascertain the cause, however, said Chang Cheng Chen, an engineer from a regional architects’ association.

“It requires a thorough technical inspection, which may take two to three months,” he said, adding that factors such as the nature of the soil and how quake waves passed through the building could have played a part.

More than 220 aftershocks followed the main quake, including a 5.7 quake late on Wednesday. A Reuters witness said people rushed out of a residential building and rescue workers looked up from piles of debris after one such quiver.

Authorities “would not give up” on disaster relief efforts, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said during her second visit to the quake-hit area on Thursday.

“I didn’t really dare stay at home,” said Hualien resident Yang Yantin. “The area around my house is actually not that bad, the houses are all OK but, because of the aftershocks, I don’t really want to stay there.”

A damaged building is seen after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018.

A damaged building is seen after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Lin Tzu Wei, an official at the Central Weather Bureau, said continued vigilance of seismic activity was needed.

“We have not seen a sign of a slowdown yet,” he told Reuters by telephone. “We need to continue to monitor the situation for one to two days…this is quite a rare event.”

As many as 150 people were initially feared missing in the rubble.

More than 600 soldiers and 1,300 police spread out to help the rescue effort, along with a team from Japan. The government said three mainland Chinese were among the dead.

Chen Deming, president of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, said the mainland was willing to help with relief efforts, such as sending teams to the island. Taiwan authorities declined, however.

More than 800 people sought refuge in shelters overnight, many too scared to stay home as aftershocks fueled panic.

Hualien, whose rugged Pacific coastline and picturesque Taroko Gorge National Park are a major tourist draw, is home to about 100,000 people. Its streets were buckled by the quake, leaving large cracks in major roads.

“I’ve never experienced an earthquake but I’d heard people say there were often earthquakes here, so at first I didn’t react,” said tourist Zhang Hongcong.

“But later when all the lights started smashing – the floor was covered in glass – that is when I realized it was serious.”

Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers its own, lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is prone to earthquakes. An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1struck nearby on Sunday.

More than 100 people were killed in a quake in southern Taiwan in 2016, and in 1999, a quake of magnitude 7.6 killed more than 2,000 people.

(Additional reporting by Jess Macy Yu in TAIPEI, and Natalie Thomas in HUALIEN; John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by James Pomfret and Clarence Fernandez)

At least seven killed, 67 missing after quake rocks Taiwan tourist area

Rescue workers are seen by a damaged building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 7, 2018.

By Fabian Hamacher and Tyrone Siu

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Rescuers combed through the rubble of collapsed buildings on Wednesday, in a search for 67 people missing after a strong earthquake which killed at least seven near Taiwan’s popular tourist city of Hualien.

The magnitude 6.4 quake, which hit near the coastal city just before midnight (1600 GMT) on Tuesday, injured 260 people and caused four buildings to collapse, officials said.

Hualien Mayor Fu Kun-chi said the number of people missing was now close to 60, although an exact figure was not provided. As many as 150 were initially feared missing.

Many of the missing were believed to be still trapped inside buildings, some of which tilted precariously, after the quake struck about 22 km (14 miles) northeast of Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast.

At the city’s Marshal Hotel, rescuers trying to free two trapped Taiwanese pulled one out alive, but the other person was declared dead, the government said.

Mainland Chinese, Czech, Japanese, Singaporean and South Korean nationals were among the injured.

“This is the worst earthquake in the history of Hualien, or at least over the past 40 years that I’ve been alive,” said volunteer Yang Hsi Hua.

“We’ve never had anything like this, we’ve never had a building topple over. Also, it was constantly shaking, so everyone was really scared, we ran to empty open spaces to avoid it.”

Rescue personnel search a collapses building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 7, 2018.

Rescue personnel search a collapses building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Aftershocks with a magnitude of at least 5.0 could rock the island in the next two weeks, the government said. Smaller tremors rattled nervous residents throughout the day.

Residents waited and watched anxiously as emergency workers dressed in fluorescent orange and red suits and wearing helmets searched for residents trapped in apartment blocks.

Hualien is home to about 100,000 people. Its streets were buckled by the force of the quake, with around 40,000 homes left without water and around 1,900 without power. Water supply had returned to nearly 5,000 homes by noon (0400 GMT), while power was restored to around 1,700 households.

DAMAGE, PANIC

Emergency workers surrounded a badly damaged 12-storey residential building, a major focus of the rescue effort. Windows had collapsed and the building was wedged into the ground at a roughly 40-degree angle.

Rescuers worked their way around and through the building while residents looked on from behind cordoned-off roads. Others spoke of the panic when the earthquake struck.

“We were still open when it happened,” said Lin Ching-wen, who operates a restaurant near a damaged military hospital.

“I grabbed my wife and children and we ran out and tried to rescue people,” he said.

A Reuters video showed large cracks in the road, while police and emergency services tried to help anxious people roaming the streets. A car sat submerged in rubble as rescue workers combed through the ruins of a nearby building.

President Tsai Ing-wen went to the scene of the quake early on Wednesday to help direct rescue operations.

“The president has asked the cabinet and related ministries to immediately launch the ‘disaster mechanism’ and to work at the fastest rate on disaster relief work,” Tsai’s office said in a statement.

A body of employee of collapsed Marshal Hotel is carried by a rescue personnel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 7, 2018.

A body of employee of collapsed Marshal Hotel is carried by a rescue personnel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, the world’s largest contract chipmaker and major Apple supplier, said initial assessments indicated no impact from the earthquake.

Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers part of its territory, lies near the junction of two tectonic plates and is prone to earthquakes. An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 struck nearby on Sunday.

More than 100 people were killed in a quake in southern Taiwan in 2016, and some Taiwanese remain scarred by a 7.6 magnitude quake that was felt across the island and killed more than 2,000 people in 1999.

(For graphic on Taiwan earthquake, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2BJCdQ2)

(Additional reporting by Jeanny Kao and Jess Macy Yu in TAIPEI and Natalie Thomas in Hualien; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Paul Tait and Richard Balmforth)

At least two dead in magnitude 6.4 quake in Taiwan

The aftermaths of earth quake are seen in Hualien, Taiwan, February 6, 2018, in this picture grab obtained from social media video.

TAIPEI (Reuters) – A magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck near the coastal city of Hualien in Taiwan late on Tuesday, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said, killing at least two people and causing several buildings to collapse.

The quake struck about 22 km (14 miles) northeast of Hualien shortly before midnight, and the epicenter was very shallow at just 1km, the USGS said.

“Two people were unfortunately killed, and 114 have suffered light or severe injuries,” Taiwan’s Premier William Lai told an emergency government meeting.

A number of aftershocks hit the area, but there was no word of any tsunami warning.

Hualien is a popular tourist destination on Taiwan’s eastern coast and home to about 100,000 people.

“The president has asked the cabinet and related ministries to immediately launch the ‘disaster mechanism’ and to work at the fastest rate on disaster relief work,” President Tsai Ing-wen’s office said in a statement.

Lai said the government was urgently repairing a major highway damaged by the quake. He said the government would provide further updates on the situation later on Wednesday morning.

Among the buildings toppled in the quake was the Marshal Hotel in Hualien, where three people were trapped inside, the government said.

Four other buildings, including two hotels and a military hospital, also tilted during the quake in Hualien, which is located about 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of the capital, Taipei.

The government said two bridges in the city were either cracked or could not be used due to the quake.

On Sunday an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 struck nearby.

Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers part of its territory, is prone to earthquakes.

More than 100 were killed in a quake in southern Taiwan in 2016, and some Taiwanese remain scarred by a 1999 earthquake with 7.6 magnitude whose impact was felt across the island and in which more than 2,000 people died.

(Reporting by Jess Macy Yu and Taipei bureau; Editing by Tony Munroe and Gareth Jones)

Earthquake in Gulf of Alaska sparks brief California tsunami fears

Vehicles are seen during a tsunami warning evacuation in Kodiak, Alaska, U.S., January 23, 2018 in this still image obtained from social media video. Instagram @JUPITERTHEPRODUCER.ASTORIA via REUTERS

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE (Reuters) – Alaska and parts of western Canada braced for a possible tsunami on Tuesday after a magnitude-7.9 earthquake struck the Gulf of Alaska, sparking evacuations in coastal Alaska and a tsunami warning for California that was later lifted.

In Alaska, people packed into high schools and other evacuation centers after the quake hit shortly after midnight local time (0900 GMT).

Officials had warned residents as far south as San Francisco to be ready to evacuate coastal areas but later lifted tsunami watches for California, Oregon and Washington states as well as coastal British Colombia in Canada.

In Alaska, where a tsunami advisory remained in place as of 3:12 a.m. local time (1212 GMT).

Residents gathered in shelters on Kodiak Island, the closest land point to the quake, around 160 miles (250 km) southeast of Chiniak, Alaska, at a depth of 25 km – considered shallow but with broader damage – according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the quake, which was initially measured at magnitude 8.2.

“People are fine,” said Neil Hecht, assistant principal of Kodiak High School, which was sheltering a few hundred people. “Spirits are high. Everyone is doing well here.”

Long lines of traffic formed in coastal communities including Homer and Seward, Alaska, residents warned on social media.

In Homer, a few hundred cars were packed into its high school parking lot. Shawn Biessel, a 32-year-old park ranger, and his mother were in the lot, a few hundred feet above sea level.

“It was a really obvious, pretty strong, long quake. A good rumbler,” Biessel said in a phone interview. “It went on for a solid minute and after a while we thought we should get outside.”

Police drove through Biessel’s neighborhood with flashing lights to alert residents to evacuate, Biessel said.

“Please heed local warnings to move inland or to higher ground,” Alaska Governor Bill Walker said in a statement.

San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management briefly warned residents within three blocks of the Pacific Ocean or five blocks of San Francisco Bay to prepare to evacuate. That warning was lifted when the tsunami watch was lifted.

An initial tsunami watch for Hawaii was canceled.

Japan’s meteorological agency said it was monitoring the situation but did not issue a tsunami alert.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Andrea Hopkins in Ottawa; Writing by Scott Malone and Robin Pomeroy; Editing by John Stonestreet and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Strong earthquake in southern Peru leaves one dead, scores injured

A man observes a damage building after a strong magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru, in Acari, Arequipa , Peru, January 14, 2018.

By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) – A strong magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru on Sunday morning, killing one person, injuring scores and causing homes and roads to collapse.

The quake hit offshore at 4:18 a.m. local time (0918 GMT) at a depth of around 36 km (22.4 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. The epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean 40 km from the town of Acari.

Arequipa Governor Yamila Osorio said on Twitter that a 55-year-old man died in the town of Yauca after being crushed by rocks. Jorge Chavez, chief of Peru’s Civil Defense Institute, told local radio station RPP that 65 people were injured.

Several municipalities lost electricity, and many roads and adobe houses collapsed, Osorio said. Many residents of Lomas, a coastal town, were evacuated after feeling an aftershock.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski traveled to the towns of Chala and Acari, two of the areas most affected by the quake, to assess the damages and coordinate the response. He said some 100 houses had collapsed.

A man and a child stand at debris of a building after a strong magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru, in Acari, Arequipa , Peru, January 14, 2018.

A man and a child stand at debris of a building after a strong magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the coast of southern Peru, in Acari, Arequipa , Peru, January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Diego Ramos

“We are going to send everything that is needed, such as tents for people whose homes were destroyed,” Kuczynski told reporters in Chala.

Earthquakes are common in Peru, but many homes are built with precarious materials that cannot withstand the tremors.

In 2007 an earthquake killed hundreds in the region of Ica.

Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz said at a news conference in Lima that the government would declare a state of emergency in the affected zones to allow for faster reconstruction of roads and homes. Devastating floods last year resulted in $8 billion in rebuilding costs.

Peruvian maritime authorities said the quake did not produce a tsunami on the coast. In the morning, officials said a second person had died and that 17 people were missing in a mine, but later withdrew the reports.

Peru is the world’s No. 2 copper producer, although many mines in the south are located far inland from the quake’s epicenter. A Southern Copper Corp representative said there were no reports of damage at its Cuajone and Toquepala mines.

Jesus Revilla, a union leader at the Cerro Verde copper mine in Arequipa, said there were no reports that operations had been affected.

The quake was also felt in northern Chile, Peru’s southern neighbor, but authorities said there was no tsunami risk.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino and Luc Cohen; Additional reporting by Antonio de la Jara in Santiago; Editing by Louise Heavens, Lisa Von Ahn and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Magnitude 4.1 quake strikes Delaware, equals estimated state record

(Reuters) – A magnitude 4.1 earthquake struck Delaware on Thursday in a rare seismological occurrence for the U.S. Northeast, officials said, with the temblor’s strength equaling the estimated magnitude of an 1871 quake that was believed to be the largest ever in the state.

The quake, previously reported at magnitude 5.1 and then at 4.4, was centered in the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, according to a statement from the Delaware Emergency Management Agency. It was less than 10 miles (17 km) from the city of Dover and less than a mile (0.8 km) from Donas Landing.

There were no reports of injuries or damage, officials said.

In 1871, a quake believed to have been of magnitude 4.1 struck in Delaware, according to the website for the Delaware Geological Survey, a state agency.

The 1871 quake had been the largest on record for Delaware, according to the survey, but its strength has only been estimated.

The largest quake ever recorded in Delaware was a magnitude 3.8 temblor in 1973, according to the Delaware Geological Survey.

Earthquakes in Delaware do not occur on the edge of a tectonic plate, as is more common in places such as California, where fault lines between plates generate earthquakes. Generations of California residents have been bracing for the so-called “Big One” along the San Andreas Fault.

Instead, the Delaware temblor occurred far from the edge of a plate, said Thomas Pratt, a research geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey who is based in Virginia.

“There’s a lot of speculation, but we don’t have a good answer for why these earthquakes are occurring in the middle of the plates,” Pratt said.

The latest quake was downgraded to a magnitude 4.1 after data came in from several monitoring stations, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Rafael Abreu said by telephone.

It was felt in Philadelphia in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, some 53 miles (85 km) from the epicenter.

The quake was shallow, only 5 miles (8 km) deep, which would have amplified its effect, and some people reported feeling light shaking in areas around New York City and Baltimore, according to the USGS website.

Many social media users also confirmed feeling the temblor and #earthquake had quickly risen to the top of trending topics on Twitter with more than 11,000 tweets mentioning the hashtag.

(Reporting by Sandra Maler in Washington and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler and Dan Grebler)

Quake hits southeast Iran, destroys homes; no fatalities reported

Quake hits southeast Iran, destroys homes; no fatalities reported

By Parisa Hafezi

ANKARA (Reuters) – A strong earthquake of magnitude 6.0 struck southeastern Iran on Friday, injuring at least 42 people and destroying several homes in an area where most people live in villages of mud-walled homes. State media said no deaths had been reported.

Rescue workers, special teams with sniffer dogs and units of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia forces were sent to the quake-hit areas in Kerman province, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said.

State TV said many residents rushed out of houses in Kerman city and nearby villages and towns, fearing more tremors after some 51 aftershocks following the 6:32 a.m. (0232 GMT) quake.

“The quake destroyed some houses in 14 villages but so far there has been no fatalities,” a local official told state TV. “Fortunately no deaths have been reported so far.”

The quake struck less than three weeks after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake hit villages and towns in Iran’s western Kermansheh province along the mountainous border with Iraq, killing 530 people and injuring thousands of others.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Friday’s quake, at first reported as magnitude 6.3, was centered 36 miles (58 km) northeast of Kerman city, which has a population of more than 821,000. The quake was very shallow, at a depth of 6.2 miles (10 km), which would have amplified the shaking in the poor, sparsely populated area.

Head of Relief and Rescue Organization of Iran’s Red Crescent Morteza Salimi told state television that at least 42 people were injured. Iran’s state news agency IRNA said most of those hurt had minor injuries.

“Assessment teams are surveying the earthquake-stricken areas and villages in Kerman province,” IRNA quoted local official Mohammadreza Mirsadeqi as saying.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said the quake had caused heavy damage in Hojedk town and some villages were hit by power and water cuts.

State TV aired footage of damaged buildings in remote mountainous villages near Hojedk town, the epicenter of the earthquake with a population of 3,000 people. TV said coal mines in the area had been closed because of aftershocks.

Iran’s Red Crescent said emergency shelter, food and water had been sent to the quake-hit areas.

Criss-crossed by several major fault lines, Iran is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 quake in Kerman province killed 31,000 people and flattened the ancient city of Bam.

(Additional reporting by Sandra Maler in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

South Korea postpones university exam after rare earthquake

By Christine Kim and Cynthia Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea postponed its annual university entrance exam by a week on Wednesday after a rare earthquake rattled the country, shaking buildings and causing damage but no deaths.

Minister of Education Kim Sang-kon said the hugely competitive exam, scheduled for Thursday, would be postponed for the first time ever because of a natural disaster. It was the country’s second-biggest earthquake on record.

“A fair amount of damage was reported,” Kim told a media briefing.

“Due to the continued aftershocks, we are seeing many citizens, including students, unable to return home.”

The exam would now be held on Nov. 23 to ensure conditions were fair for everyone, he said.

The 5.4 magnitude quake struck about 9 km (5 miles) north of the southeastern port city of Pohang, the Korea Meteorological Administration said.

Shaking was felt across the country and there were numerous reports of minor damage. Operations at nuclear reactors were not affected, the state-run nuclear operator Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co said.

The university entrance exam is taken very seriously. Commercial airliners do not fly during listening portions of the exam, while financial markets open later in the day to ensure light traffic for students to get to their exam centers.

The country’s foreign exchange and stock markets will still open an hour late (0100 GMT) on Thursday, South Korean financial authorities said in text messages.

South Korea has relatively little seismic activity, compared with Japan to the east.

Its strongest quake on record was magnitude 5.8 in September last year.

The Meteorological Administration said nearly 20 aftershocks had shaken the region and more were expected in coming days.

(Reporting by Christine Kim and Cynthia Kim; Additional reporting by Jane Chung, Haejin Choi; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Collapsed state housing in Iranian quake shows corruption: Rouhani

Collapsed state housing in Iranian quake shows corruption: Rouhani

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The ease with which some state-built homes collapsed in Sunday’s earthquake in western Iran showed corrupt practices when they were constructed, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday in a sentiment shared by many ordinary Iranians.

Some of the houses which collapsed in an earthquake that killed at least 530 people and injured thousands of others were built under an affordable housing scheme initiated in 2011 by Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“That a house built by (ordinary) people in the Sarpol-e Zahab region has remained standing while in front of it a government-built building has collapsed is a sign of corruption,” Rouhani told a cabinet meeting, state media said.

“It’s clear there has been corruption in construction contracts,” he said.

Sarpol-e Zahab is the town hardest hit by Sunday’s 7.3 magnitude quake, the deadliest in Iran in more than a decade.

A picture widely circulated by ordinary Iranians on social media shows a building with relatively little damage in Sarpol-e Zahab next to a heavily damaged government-constructed building.

This has fueled speculation that shoddy construction in the building of government housing had led to a higher number of casualties from the earthquake.

Rouhani said on Tuesday that any shortcomings in government constructed buildings in the earthquake zone will be punished.

Mohammad Hossein Sadeghi, the prosecutor general in Kermanshah, the largest city in the earthquake zone, said on Wednesday that the quality of construction of new buildings that were heavily damaged would be investigated and charges may be brought against anyone deemed responsible.

“If there are any problems with the construction, the individuals who were negligent must answer for their deeds,” Sadeghi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).

An arrest warrant has been issued for a contractor responsible for a recently built hospital which was heavily damaged in the town of Islamabad-e Gharb, parliamentarian Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh said on Tuesday, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

Residents in the earthquake zone have also complained about the slow and inadequate government response as they struggle to find food, water and shelter.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Richard Balmforth)