Sanctions have prevented Iran from acquiring badly needed equipment, including relief helicopters
Tehran - Iranian authorities ordered the evacuation of scores of villages on Tuesday as the impact of severe flooding spread further across the country, while Washington denied Tehran's claim that U.S. sanctions were slowing aid efforts.
The spokesman for the emergency department said 57 people have died in the flooding since mid-March. Mojtaba Khaledi was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency on Tuesday as saying another 478 have been injured, with 19 still hospitalized.
State television said armed forces had stepped up relief efforts, airing footage of military and Red Crescent helicopters taking part in rescue operations.
Flood risks forced authorities to order the evacuation of more than 70 villages in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, state news agency IRNA said.
Iran's top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised rescue efforts but said officials should have anticipated the disaster better, state TV reported, as a war of words broke out between Tehran and Washington over relief responses.
Iran's foreign minister says sanctions imposed by the Trump administration last year have hampered rescue efforts in flood-stricken areas of the country, where nearly 60 people have died since mid-March, while the U.S. blamed the disaster on the Iranian government's own "mismanagement."
Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted late Monday that America's "maximum pressure" policy on Iran "is impeding aid efforts by #IranianRedCrescent to all communities devastated by unprecedented floods."
He said the sanctions have prevented Iran from acquiring badly needed equipment, including relief helicopters. "This isn't just economic warfare" it's economic TERRORISM," he tweeted.
U.S. President Donald Trump restored crippling sanctions on Iran last year after withdrawing from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The sanctions have worsened an economic crisis that has ignited sporadic anti-government protests over the past year.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday the floods show the "level of Iranian regime mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness."
"The regime blames outside entities when, in fact, it is their mismanagement that has led to this disaster," he said. "The United States stands ready to assist and contribute to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which would then direct the money through the Iranian Red Crescent for relief."
In a tweet late Tuesday, Zarif called Pompeo's remarks "fake news" and urged the U.S. to accept responsibility for economic pressures on Iranians.
The regime blames outside entities when, in fact, it is their mismanagement that has led to this disaster. The United States stands ready to assist and contribute to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which would then direct the money through the Iranian Red Crescent for relief.
Iran has seen major flooding for the past two weeks in hundreds of villages, towns and cities in the western half of the country, where in some places an emergency situation has been declared.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told IRNA that because of the U.S. sanctions, all foreign bank accounts of the Iranian Red Crescent are closed and no foreign-based entity is able to transfer funds for those suffering from the floods.
Local authorities in the stricken areas have repeatedly asked for more helicopters to reach remote locations. Iranian state media said 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 say 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 have been cut.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held an emergency meeting Tuesday on the flood response with top officials and army commanders, state TV reported. Authorities have already issued evacuation warnings and ordered emergency discharges from reservoirs.
Emergency services are advising people to postpone travel to western and southern Iran, including the oil-rich Khuzestan province, which is expecting heavy flooding in the coming days from overflowing rivers that flow down to the province.
Provincial Gov. Gholamreza Shariati told the semi-official Tasnim news agency that at least three towns with nearly 140,000 residents are on evacuation alert.
Last year, at least 30 people were killed by flash floods in Iran's East Azerbaijan province.