TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left his country on Monday morning, in the wake of twin earthquakes that killed 306 and injured thousands in Iran on Saturday, exposing him to criticism at home for not showing empathy with the disaster victims, Reuters reports.
The decision to go overseas less than two days after the quakes, is criticized in an editorial titled “Mr. Ahmadinejad, where have you gone?”
Asr-e Iran writes, “In every other part of the world, the tradition is that when natural disasters happen, leaders will change their plans and visit the affected areas in order to show their compassion … and observe rescue efforts,” Asr-e Iran wrote.
Ahmadinejad is taking the overseas trip to Saudi Arabi for a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expected to focus on the crisis in Syria.
Iran also faces criticism from lawmakers and the public after the search and rescue mission was called off Monday, Reuters reports.
“The crisis management headquarters must take broader steps to alleviate these concerns,” Larijani, a rival to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and possible candidate in the 2013 presidential elections, was quoted as saying on Monday.
Some residents expressed disbelief that authorities could have reached some of the most remote villages less than 24 hours after the quakes saying, “I know the area well. There are some regions where there are villages that you can’t even reach by car,” one doctor in the city of Tabriz told Reuters by telephone on Monday, declining to give his name because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It’s not possible for them to have finished so soon.”
Residents of the zone in northwestern Iran described moments of terror and panic with birds crowing loudly in warning seconds before the ground shook.
“The moment the earthquake hit, it was like a snake biting from underground. It was the worst experience of my life,” said resident Morteza Javid, 47, from Ahar.
Television showed images of people being evacuated on stretchers, while others were treated for broken limbs and concussions. Dozens of families were sleeping on blankets laid out on the ground in parks.
Officials have announced two days of mourning in East Azerbaijan province.
Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 2003, some 26,000 people were killed by a 6.6 magnitude quake that flattened the historic southeastern city of Bam.
Heath Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi told a session of parliament Monday that the number jumped by about 50 after victims expired in the hospital. More than 3,000 people were injured in the earthquakes.
Scores of aftershocks have coursed through Iran’s mountainous northeast since the 6.4 and 6.3 magnitude quakes hit the region, where some 300,000 people live near the borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia.