Authorities ordered tens of thousands of residents of the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz to evacuate immediately on Wednesday as floodwaters entered the capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province, state television reported.
The province’s governor, Gholamreza Shariati, said he ordered the evacuation of five districts as a “precautionary and preventive move to avert any danger”, Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported.
The districts have an estimated population of between 60,000 and 70,000.
Shariati asked young men to “help us in building dykes and to assist in the evacuation of women, children and the elderly.”
READ ALSO: Trump Says Netanyahu’s Victory Gives US Peace Plan ‘Better Chance’
“The Dez and Karkheh rivers have for the first time joined each other near Ahvaz and are now flowing towards the city,” Shariati told state TV, adding this was unprecedented.
“These two rivers are far away from each other, but the huge volume of floodwater caused them to join up.”
Shariati said a sixth district was also put on standby for possible evacuation.
Khuzestan province has been struggling with major floods due to heavy rains as well as floodwater coming from the north.
It is the latest in a series of unprecedented floods that have hit the normally arid country since March 19, killing at least 70 people in 20 of Iran’s 31 provinces.
The country’s northeast was first swamped on March 19 before the west and southwest of the country were hit on March 25.
Food is priority
On April 1 the west and southwest were again swamped by floods when heavy rains returned.
The huge inflow of water forced authorities to release large volumes of water from the province’s largest dams, which is now threatening some of the cities downstream including the Ahvaz region, home to 1.3 million.
Authorities ordered the evacuation of six new cities along the Karkheh river on Saturday as the situation neared “critical” status.
“We’ve been trying to manage the water … most of it has been diverted toward other channels,” Ahvaz Mayor Mansour Katanbaf told ISNA on Sunday.
But on Monday a hospital in danger of being flooded was evacuated in Ahvaz as officials battled to contain the rising waters.
Emergency services have been left scrambling to prevent further loss of life and to provide relief to flood-stricken residents.
“Delivering food and hygienic goods to (shelter) camps is our primary priority and we have provided emergency accommodations for about 44,000 people,” Iran Red Crescent’s head of Relief and Rescue Organisation Morteza Salimi told AFP on Tuesday.
In the city of Susangerd, swamped by floodwaters, an AFP team dispatched to the region saw residents living in tents setup on the roofs of their homes as what had previously been roads had become canals marked by the palm trees lining the streets.
Red Crescent choppers were providing food and basic goods to regions cutoff by floods, with villagers rushing to receive the help as they approached.
The flooding across Iran has caused damage worth 150 trillion Iranian rials — more than $1 billion at the free market rate — according to an official estimate given by lawmaker Mehrdad Lahooti.