SARPOL-E-ZAHAB, Iran — Karim and Fouzieh Yari were enjoying a night at home on Sunday, entertaining guests in their living room, when disaster struck.
The room began to shake violently. The married couple sheltered under a doorway next to the central pillar of their house, waiting there until the convulsions stopped. They saw the stairwell had collapsed, forcing them to take drastic measures.gi
"We grabbed onto bits of metal sticking out of the walls, and we all managed to climb out of the building," Fouzieh said. "God did not want us to die."
Karim and Fouzieh are just two of the thousands of Iranians whose lives were turned upside down by the 7.3-magnitude earthquake that struck near the Iraqi border, killing more than 500 people and injuring nearly 8,000 others, according to state media.
And in this hard-hit town, the scene on Tuesday resembled the aftermath of a bomb blast.
The Yaris, like so many others, lost everything — even the certificate marking the marriage of their daughter. But as they huddled around a fire with their two children on Tuesday, the couple seemed to count their blessings.
"The army keeps trying to give us tents and food, but my husband has too much pride," said Fouzieh Yari. "He keeps telling them to give it to other people because they need it more than we do."
Shirvali Ghadami and his family, for instance, need all the help they can get.
Ghadami, a 56-year-old who works in agricultural management, lost his 70-year-old brother and 16-year-old nephew. His daughter lost three of her toes, and his sister-in-law's ribs were crushed.
He and his family spent the night in tents just a few blocks away from the heap of rubble that used to be their house. The Ghadamis said they were still terrified by the aftershocks that rattle them every few hours.
Thousands of other people took refuge in similar makeshift encampments near roads and parks around this town. Others sat outside in the bitter cold, some guarding their belongings as though they feared the little they had left might be stolen.
A man who identified himself as Hassan was found sitting next to a gutter, near the decimated remains of his building. He said he was one of the lucky ones in town. He and his family survived the quake physically unscathed. All he had been able to salvage of his possessions, however, was a fridge and a few pots and pans.
Meanwhile, rescuers braved the aftershocks on Tuesday, combing through mountains of debris and recovering bodies. Search crews and local residents stood atop the wreckage and used blankets to carry away corpses.
Amid the destruction and sorrow, there were signs of life. Several people across the region seemed eager to help their countrymen. Some loaded up their cars with blankets, heaters and food, and then headed into the earthquake zone to help total strangers.
Karim Yari, a 52-year-old retired teacher, did not dwell on his misfortune. He seemed to look to the future with a mix of stoicism and practicality.
"If we can get a loan to rebuild our house, then we will," he said. "If not, we will go to a small village and rent something. That's life."
Ali Arouzi reported from Sarpol-e Zahab, Iran. Daniel Arkin reported from New York.