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Hundreds dead, thousands injured in Iran and Iraq after quake

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis sent messages of condolence to people in Iran and Iraq after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake killed more than 500 people and injured more than 8,000, mostly in Iran.

The pope "assures all affected by this tragedy of his prayerful solidarity," stated the nearly identical messages, released Nov. 13.

"In expressing his sorrow to all who mourn the loss of their loved ones, he offers his prayers for the deceased and commends them to the mercy of the almighty," stated the telegrams, signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

As he often does in emergencies, Pope Francis also asked for the "blessings of consolation and strength" for first responders and civil authorities.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake Nov. 12 was centered 19 miles outside Halabja, Iraq. It was felt as far west as the Mediterranean coast.

News reports stated that thousands of people were taking refuge in makeshift encampments near roads and parks. Others sat outside in the bitter cold, some guarding their belongings as though they feared the little they had left might be stolen.

Meanwhile, rescuers combed through mountains of debris to recover bodies in the hard-town of Sarpol-E-Zahab, Iran, according to NBCNews. Search crews and local residents stood atop the wreckage and used blankets to carry away corpses.

The hardest-hit area was Iran's western Kermanshah province, which sits in the Zagros Mountains that divide Iran and Iraq. The Associated Press reported residents in the rural area rely mainly on farming to make a living.

Caritas MONA, the regional branch of the Church's charitable aid agency in the Middle East and North Africa, sent tweets asking people to join Caritas Iran and Caritas Iraq in prayers for those affected.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Iran following yesterday's devastating earthquake that hit the border region," stated another tweet Nov. 13. 

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