A pair of major earthquakes shook Iran, and although dozens of villages have been destroyed, a national aid organization turned down international aid, saying it could provide aid to the tens of thousands of homeless.
Two powerful earthquakes, registering 6.4 and 6.3 on the moment magnitude scale, killed over 200 people and injured hundreds more on Saturday (11.08.2012). Most of the damage centered on the rural villages of Ahar, Varzaghan and Harees, near the city Tabriz, according to Iranian media.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was quick to offer his country's help to Iran.
"I extend my deep sympathies to the people who have lost their loved ones and belongings during the holy month of Ramadan," Westerwelle wrote in a message to his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi. "I wish the injured a quick recovery. Rest assured that Germany stands ready to help your country in this difficult time."
But such offers of international aid and help caring for survivors and the homeless have been turned down by Iran.
The Iranian Red Crescent also has not accepted help from its sister organizations. "That means that the Red Crescent is still in a position to deal with local problems on its own - with its own search dogs and ambulances," Dieter Schütz, the spokesman for the German Red Cross, told DW.
After catastrophe strikes, national branches of the Red Crescent and Red Cross can request aid from the group's central office in Geneva, where decisions are made on which nations send additional support to the crisis area and what kind of equipment they bring to help.
"We can react within one or two days. We have an entire hospital in a logistics center in Berlin," Schütz said.
Situation under control
Despite a report from the Iranian Interior Ministry that 300 villages located in the earthquake zone had suffered damage or had been destroyed, the situation is not serious enough to call for international assistance, Hassan Esfandiar, who is responsible for international cooperation at the Iranian Red Crescent, told DW.
"The situation under control," he said. "Immediately after the earthquake, the national society rushed to the disaster area. It seems that there is no serious issue in the area and the national society has declared that there is no need for international aid."
He added that after Saturday's quakes, 60 relief teams and three helicopter and relief items, such as tents and food, were dispatched to the quake area. As of Sunday morning, he said rescue efforts had largely been stopped and support teams focused on providing relief to the people affected by the quakes.
Mojgan Mohammad, an International Committee of the Red Cross representative in Tehran, told DW that the local aid organization was dealing well with the relief efforts.
Villages in rubble
A report by an Iranian new agency, however, cited the head of the Iranian Red Crescent, Mahmud Mosafar, as saying there was no access to several villages. The Fars news agency reported that a crisis center for 16,000 people had been established and that mobile hospitals had been brought to the crisis area.
Sitting above an area where several tectonic plates meet, Iran is often subjected to earthquakes. The last strong quake to hit Iran occurred in Bam in December 2003 when some 31,000 people died.
Such devastating earthquakes cannot be predicted, Rainer Kind, a seismologist at the German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam, told DW.
"The methods keep improving and we know the general causes, but that's not enough to predict an earthquake's exact location, strength and the time it will strike," he said.
Determining the amount of destruction an earthquake causes depends largely on the materials used in buildings near the epicenter, he added.
"In countries like Iran, houses are often poorly built out of air-dried clay bricks - especially in villages" Kind said, adding that such buildings collapse easily during even a minor earthquake.