'Unprecedented' flooding in Iran kills 50, Tehran claims U.S. sanctions hampering aid

Iran's foreign minister said U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran by the Trump administration last year have hampered successful rescue efforts for flood-stricken areas of the country where at least 50 people have died so far.
Iran has been facing major flooding for the past two weeks, with dozens of people killed as a result. (Tasnim News Agency via Reuters)

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.

At least 50 people have been killed in the past two weeks from flash floods after the worst rains in the country in at 
least a decade. State television said armed forces had stepped up relief efforts, airing footage of military and Red Crescent helicopters taking part in rescue operations.

Iran's foreign minister said late Monday that U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran by the Trump administration last year have hampered successful rescue efforts for flood-stricken areas.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Trump's "maximum pressure" policy on Iran has prevented the country from getting badly needed equipment, including relief helicopters.

The flooding has struck hundreds of villages as well as towns and cities in the western half of the country, where in some places an emergency situation has been declared.

Ministry spokesperson Bahram Ghasemi on Tuesday told the official IRNA news agency 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 money for flood-stricken people.

Local authorities in the stricken areas have repeatedly asked for more helicopters to reach remote and cutoff locations. Iranian state media said on 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 reports said the floods have cut off some 80 inter-city roads, as well as roads to nearly 2,200 villages, and that electricity and communications with many places, including in western Ilam and Lorestan provinces, have been cut.

Rouhani accused of mishandling crisis

Authorities have issued evacuation warnings, and state TV has broadcast footage showing inundated towns and villages in western and southwestern Iran. State media said officials have warned about the possibility of dams breaking and have ordered emergency water discharges from reservoirs to prevent a catastrophe.

President Hassan Rouhani, accused by critics of mishandling the crisis, has promised compensation to all those affected.

The head of the judiciary, hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, has said that officials who mishandled the disaster and caused the death of civilians could face prosecution.

Vehicles were seen stacked one against another after a flash flooding In Shiraz, Iran. (Tasnim News Agency/Reuters)

Authorities are concerned about rising threats of dam failures and water releases that could create further damage in various provinces.

Triggered by heavy rainfall, several rivers have burst from their banks. Emergency services are advising people to postpone unnecessary intra-city commutes as well as trips to western and southern Iran, including the oil-rich Khuzestan province which is expecting heavy flooding in the coming days as overflowing rivers from provinces upstream reach Khuzestan.

The floods have hit Iran particularly hard, coming against the backdrop of a spiraling economic crisis. U.S. President Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal with world powers and restore crippling economic sanctions have caused the Iranian currency, the rial, to plummet in recent months, sending prices skyrocketing and wiping out many people's life savings.

The floods first began in the second half of March in the northern provinces of Golestan and Mazandaran and later spread. Iran has seen a decades-long drought but the latest flooding has also been blamed on widespread disregard of safety measures and construction of buildings and roads near the rivers.

Last year, at least 30 people were killed by flash floods in East Azerbaijan province.

With files from Reuters