Northern Iran is a notorious earthquake zone and at the beginning of September 1962 duly experienced a massive quake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale. The epicenter was near the town of Bou’in-Zahra in rugged hill country between Qazvin and Hamadan. When aftershocks finally subsided, a fissure 103 km (64 mi) long had opened up. The tremor was felt over a wide area with minor damage reported as far away as Tehran, 225 km (140 mi) to the east.
A truly terrible price was paid in Bou’in-Zahra; the town suffered devastation and surrounding settlements fared no better. Around 100 villages were affected, at least 30 of them virtually flattened as their mud-brick houses simply collapsed during the violent tremor, often killing occupants or burying them alive. Numerous other dwellings had already been swept away by landslides that occurred immediately before the quake. In total, over 21,000 houses were either destroyed or too badly damaged to be worth repairing. As a further blow to embattled rural communities, around a third of the domestic livestock that played such an important part in their everyday lives perished during the quake.
In all, the Bou’in-Zahra earthquake killed over 12,000 Iranians and injured thousands – with many of the more serious casualties eventually being transferred to Tehran’s hospitals after medical facilities at the regional capital of Qazvin were overwhelmed. The relief effort was patchy, with such emergency services as there were extended far beyond their capabilities. Air searches were ineffective and ground parties sometimes didn’t even reach outlying villages for a week or more. Private citizens organized relief convoys carrying blankets and food, but for thousands of victims help came too late.
When: September 1 1962
Where: Qazvin Province, Iran
Death toll: 12,225 confirmed fatalities resulted from the quake, although the true total was almost certainly higher.
You should know: Another earthquake hit Bou’in-zahra 40 years on. In 2002. Although this one registered a not-so-different 6.5 on the Richter scale, fewer than 300 people died with some 1,500 Injured. A mild casualty-free quake was also experienced in 2005.