By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Iranian authorities have ordered the evacuation of more towns and villages threatened by floods, as the official death toll from the flooding reached 70.
With heavy rains drenching much of the country since March 19, floods have swept through hundreds of towns and villages in 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces.
The mountainous Lorestan Province and the oil-producing Khuzestan Province, both in southwest Iran, have been especially hard hit by the floods.
Iranian state TV reported on April 6 that at least six communities in Khuzestan were being moved to safer areas as officials released water from major river dams.
“An evacuation order has been issued and we are recommending women and children to leave but we are asking the men and youth to stay and help us [in the rescue effort],” the provincial governor, Gholamreza Shariati, told state TV.
Iranoan Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli warned that up to 400,000 people in Khuzestan, where a state of emergency has been declared, could be exposed to the floods, the official IRNA news agency.
In Lorestan, seven villages threatened by landslides were to be evacuated, state TV reported.
At least 70 people have been killed in the floods, the head of Iran’s emergency services, Pirhossein Kolivand, told IRNA.
He also said almost 800 people had been injured and 45 hospitalized.
Behnam Saeedi, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Organization, said over 2,000 rural roads and 84 bridges had been “washed away” by the floods.
Nationwide some “141 rivers burst their banks and around 400 landslides were reported,” he told state TV.
The floods, the worst in a decade, have prompted angry demonstrations over the government’s inadequate relief response to the crisis.
Thousands of people have sheltered for days in the open with little food or warm clothes as the rains have continued.
Protesters have also vented anger at the government’s decision to release water from major dams that are near overflowing, saying the move threatens to destroy their homes, farmland, and livestock.