Cars have been overturned, many of them piled up one on top of the other. People struggle to get out of the vehicles, fearing for their lives. One hangs out from a window, another person sits on top of their car, wondering what to do next. As the water level rises, the flood lifts the cars, causing some of them to knock into each other. The amount of water is beyond what people ever could have imagined.
This is not a scene from a Hollywood doomsday movie — but a true account of the flooding of Quran Gate in the city of Shiraz, photos of which have been posted on social media.
The Iranian new year started on March 21, and with torrential rainstorms that led to flooding across several provinces in southwest and northern Iran, and which threaten to flood southern provinces too. On Monday, March 25, the floods reached Fars province and its capital Shiraz. “Rain started at 8am,” one resident of Shiraz told IranWire. “It started out like a usual spring rain but it suddenly came faster. After two hours water covered many parts of the city.”
It is reported that several main thoroughfares of the city are now under water, including Vakil Bazaar, Amir Kabir Boulevard, Zand Boulevard and Paramount Crossroads. As of now, the authorities have confirmed that at least 17 people in the city have lost their lives to the floods.
Shiraz is just one city of several that have been hit by the floods. Over the last few days, people have posted dozens of photographs showing flooded cities, towns and villages, and the violent rains that continue in many areas.
On the evening of Monday, March 25, the director general for the Red Crescent in the western province of Lorestan told the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that the situation in the province is critical. Videos posted online show that the city of Pol-e Dokhtarhas and its historical Kalhorbeen bridge have been completely flooded and the rivers in the province are overflowing.
“Escape Kashkan River,” Naser Karimi, a climatologist, tweeted. “Kashkan is going to flood. Unfortunately, thousands of nomads now live along the banks of the river and new year travelers are driving on the road alongside it. Somebody must warn all these people to flee Kashkan and find safety in the surrounding heights.”
Kashkan River is the most flood-prone river in Lorestan province, and is one of the main tributaries of the Karkheh, a large river that covers about one-third of the neighboring province of Khuzestan to the south.
Earthquake and Now Floods
The news agency Tasnim published photographs of floods that also affected the western province of Kermanshah, which remains badly damaged and vulnerable after a 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck it in November 2017.
At least 450 people were killed in the disaster, and thousands were injured. One of the most damaged areas was the town of Sarpol-e Zahab, about 10 miles from the border with Iraq. After more than a year and a half, some of the town’s residents still live in tents and prefabricated shelters. Now photographs have emerged of these makeshift shelters standing in water.
Ali Khodadadi, the director general of Khuzestan Red Crescent, reported that several levies on the banks of the Arvand River (Shatt al-Arab) have collapsed and, as a result, a number of villages have been flooded. He told the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) that at least 180 people from five villages had been injured. At the same time, an official from Iran’s Meteorological Organization warned of flooding in the country’s southern provinces. “In the next 24 hours, he said, “the level of precipitation in Khuzestan will reach a three-digit figure and there is no doubt that the large rivers in the province will overflow.” And Peyman Jahangiri, governor of the Khuzestani city of Andimeshk, which is close to one of the major rivers of the province, told the residents of three villages to immediately evacuate their homes.
The flooding started in the northern provinces of Golestan and Mazandaran. Rains started on Monday, March 18, and at first people living in these provinces thought God had answered their prayers and delivered a gift for new year’s eve, ending the drought of the last year. “I was telling myself that a good year begins with a good spring,” a resident of Gonbad Kavous, a city in Golestan, told IranWire. “But I did not know that the rain was not going to stop, or that it was going to submerge villages and make people homeless on the eve of the new year.”
The Role of Deforestation
Torrential rains were followed by power outages in the rural districts of Golestan province, state TV reported. Several ecologists and environmental experts have said the flooding is the direct result of local forests being razed and of decreasing vegetation. Nonetheless, the deputy for construction to Mazandaran's governor, Mehdi Razjouyan, insisted there was no connection between the recent flash floods and the levels of vegetation in the area.
News of the floods in Golestan was slow to emerge because of the new year holidays. On March 21, people posted photographs of flooding in the town of Aqqala online, along with appeals for people and the authorities to help. The images were quickly shared on social networks, and volunteers and relief workers from Iran Red Crescent set out to help. But there was an absence of news about government officials and government relief operations arriving on the scene, and three days later it was discovered that the provincial governor of Golestan was spending his new year holidays outside Iran.
There was widespread criticism of the government’s slow response to the disaster, and eventually First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri traveled to Golestan and Mazandaran on March 24 to see the situation for himself. Soon after he arrived in the area he dismissed the governor from his post. “One of the factors that contributed to the Aqqala flood was the Gorgan railway,” one relief volunteer told IranWire. “The railway installations prevented the water from flowing into the plane. They had to destroy [that part of the railway installation] with explosives, but since the governor was absent it took a few days. At last, last night, the Revolutionary Guards blew up parts of it.”
The city of Aqqala is reported to have been totally destroyed. The flood started eight days ago, but it is still impossible to get around the town without a boat. “You have to use boats, tractors and trucks to get around the town,” confirmed one resident. Over the last two days, army and Revolutionary Guard’s forces have arrived in the town to assist residents.“The army and the Revolutionary Guards are using heavy equipment including mechanical shovels and high-power pumps to drain the water,” the resident told IranWire.
Torrential rains continue to fall across a number of Iranian provinces. Iran’s Crisis Management Headquarters, under the chairmanship of Eshagh Jahangiri, has held a meeting to address the situation. Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, the Interior Minister and Jahangiri’s deputy at the Crisis Management Headquarters, has ordered provincial and city governors to be ready for the possible aftermath of the storms and floods.
He also ordered them to coordinate their actions with the headquarters and to not leave the areas they are responsible for under any circumstances.
Iran's Meteorological Organization has issued a statement, warning people in a number of provinces that heavy precipitation had been forecast to continue, bringing with it the possibility of floods until March 27. “Be advised that you should delay your travels as much as possible,” the statement warned people. “If you must travel, carry winter equipment with you and do not stop near the banks of rivers or ravines.”
According to IRNA, the rate of precipitation over the last year was 97.4 mm, an increase of 136 percent when compared with the previous year. This is 50 percent higher than the average for the last 11 years, and 28 percent higher than the average in the past 50 years.
“I had never seen so much rain,” another resident of Shiraz told IranWire. “The river appears to be flowing vertically. It is unbelievable.”