LONDON (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday inspected damage caused by flash floods in northern Iran and promised compensation to all those affected as the nationwide death toll reached 30.
Rouhani, accused by critics of mishandling the crisis, took several ministers with him to Golestan Province, whose governor was dismissed on Saturday amid public outrage over his absence from work. He had been abroad when the disaster hit.
At least 30 people have been confirmed dead and hundreds suffered injuries in the floods, officials said on Wednesday.
“We will rebuild Golestan just as it was before, and we will stand by your side,” Tasnim news agency quoted Rouhani as telling a gathering of villagers.
In a country more accustomed to drought, Rouhani said the floods, caused by torrential rain, had affected 25 of Iran’s 31 provinces and that the scale of the disaster had overwhelmed emergency services in some areas.
“The government will use all means and will compensate all those who have sustained damages to their houses, businesses and farms,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by state media.
Rouhani’s hardline rivals have accused the government of doing too little, too late. The head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, said on Tuesday that officials who mishandled the disaster and caused the death of civilians could face prosecution.
The damage caused by the floods has focused attention on shortcomings in Iranian infrastructure. In the city of Shiraz, where 18 people died, officials said the floods occurred because an old waterway designed to syphon off excess water had been blocked by other construction.
The Revolutionary Guards had to blow up parts of a railway in northern Iran to facilitate the removal of water because there was no drainage channel under the raised structure.
The state meteorological organisation has also faced criticism, including from Rouhani, for inaccurate weather forecasts and its late warning of flooding.
At a meeting of a government crisis group in Mazandaran Province in northern Iran, Rouhani took the opportunity to attack the United States for its sanctions against Tehran.
“The Americans and the Zionists were hopeful that this flood triggers a fight in the country, Rouhani said. “But the Iranian nation sent a message to the enemies that we are powerful.”
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that unilateral U.S. sanctions could affect its capabilities to deliver support to Iran.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and thousands are being housed in emergency shelters provided by the government, state media said.
Iran is celebrating the Nowruz new year holidays, a time when many families travel around the country, but rock falls and mudslides have blocked many roads and police asked people to avoid unnecessary journeys.
However, National Iranian Gas Company said its pipeline network had not been affected by the floods.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Gareth Jones)