Iranian authorities have ordered the evacuation of 70 villages in Khuzestan province near the Dez and Kharkheh rivers due to flood risk, according to state-run IRNA news agency.
The announcement comes a day after Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed sanctions imposed last year by US President Donald Trump‘s administration for hampering rescue operations in flood-stricken areas of the country, where 45 people have died so far.
“America’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy on Iran is impeding aid efforts by #IranianRedCrescent to all communities devastated by unprecedented floods,” Zarif said in a Twitter post on Monday night.
The sanctions, he said, have prevented Tehran from getting badly needed equipment, including relief helicopters.
“This isn’t just economic warfare; it’s economic TERRORISM,” he said.
.@realDonaldTrump ‘s "maximum pressure"—flouting UNSC Res 2231 & ICJ ruling—is impeding aid efforts by #IranianRedCrescent to all communities devastated by unprecedented floods. Blocked equipment includes relief choppers: This isn't just economic warfare; it's economic TERRORISM. pic.twitter.com/EEKTMiXLEi
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 1, 2019
A senior US official said on Monday the government is considering implementing additional sanctions against Iran that would target areas of its economy that have not been hit before.
Iran has been facing major flooding for the past two weeks that have struck hundreds of villages as well as towns and cities in the western half of the country, where in some places a state of emergency has been declared.
Local authorities in the stricken areas have repeatedly asked for more helicopters to reach remote and cutoff locations. Iranian state media said on Tuesday that dozens of military and Iranian Red Crescent helicopters are taking part in the relief operation.
Britain and Germany have offered to send help, including boats and safety equipment.
Iranian media reports said the floods have cut off some 80 intercity roads, as well as roads to nearly 2,200 villages, and that electricity and communications with many places, including in western Ilam and Lorestan provinces, have been cut.
“In Khorramabad the water has risen by as much as three metres in parts … and reports are coming in of regions … completely submerged with residents stranded on their rooftops,” state television news network IRINN reported.
The airport in the western city was flooded, with images showing water submerging the runway and cutting the province’s main air link to the rest of the country.
The Red Crescent’s provincial director, 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.”
Authorities have issued evacuation warnings and state television has broadcast footage showing inundated towns and villages in western and southwestern Iran. State media said officials have warned about the possibility of dams breaking and have ordered emergency water discharges from reservoirs to prevent a catastrophe.
Triggered by heavy rainfall several riverbanks have burst. Emergency services are advising people to postpone unnecessary intra-city commutes as well as trips to western and southern Iran, including Khuzestan province, which is expecting heavy flooding in the coming days.
The floods have hit Iran particularly hard, coming against the backdrop of a spiralling economic crisis.
Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal with world powers and restore crippling economic sanctions have caused the Iranian currency to plummet in recent months.
The floods first began in the second half of March in the northern provinces of Golestan and Mazandaran and later spread.
Iran has seen a decades-long drought but the latest flooding has also been blamed on widespread disregard of safety measures and construction of buildings and roads near the rivers.
Last year, at least 30 people were killed by flash floods in East Azerbaijan province.