President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has warned Iranians of a possible nuclear strike by the United States, but it is an even more deadly threat that has prompted him to ask 5 million of them to evacuate the capital.
Like the people of San Francisco, Tehranis know their sprawling metropolis is due for a massive earthquake. In Iran, where building standards have not advanced as quickly as the population, some estimate millions could be killed or maimed.
In an Islamic society where disasters are often seen as acts of God, Ahmadinejad told housing officials they could no longer rely on the power of prayer to save Tehran from annihilation.
“Tehran has 13 million inhabitants. If an incident happens, how can we manage it? Therefore, Tehran should be evacuated,” said Ahmadinejad, a former mayor of the city, announcing financial aid for people who move to towns with a population of less than 25,000.
“At least 5 million people should leave Tehran,” he said.
When the last major earthquake hit, in 1831, Tehran was tiny compared to the metropolis where today the work-day population can reach 15
million. As a huge quake is reckoned to hit the area around every 150 years, seismologists say one is now well overdue.
“If such a thing does happen in Tehran it will be the biggest disaster in humanity,” said Farid Mehdian, who headed a seismic study 10 years ago which gave a conservative estimate that half a million people would die in the next ‘big one’.
By comparison, the 2003 earthquake that devastated the small city of Bam in southeast Iran, and renewed talk of moving the capital, killed some 30,000 people.