As floodwaters poured into Ahvaz, the capital of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province, on Wednesday, the government ordered tens of thousands of residents to evacuate, state television reported.
Provincial 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.
Residents in two of the districts were reluctant to evacuate, preferring to stay and fight the rising waters, according to AFP reporters on the scene.
“We cannot evacuate the houses. Each household has at least three children, we have lots of cattle, water buffalos, furniture,” one resident said without revealing his name.
If the floods continue, “we could stay on our roofs or second floors,” he added.
Behind him, others rushed past carrying sandbags to reinforce a self-made dyke just meters away from the advancing water.
Others in the poor and mostly Arab-populated Sayyahi district in western Ahvaz were trying to waterproof their walls with concrete mixes and reinforce front doors with mud and sandbags.
Governor Shariati called on young men in the areas, which have an estimated population of between 60,000 and 70,000, to “help us in building dykes and to assist in the evacuation of women, children and the elderly.”
“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.
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.
– with reporting by Agence France-Presse