As dramatic videos of deadly floods leaving behind destroyed vehicles and other damage circulate on Iranian social media networks, ordinary Iranians are doing what they can to help the affected citizens, including travelers whose Nowruz holidays have been unexpectedly disrupted. While criticizing the government for its inadequate response to the deadly flooding that has ravaged the country, ordinary Iranians are engaging in spontaneous relief efforts for the stranded and the displaced.
A 10-minute flash flood in the city of Shiraz, perhaps the most popular tourist destination in the country’s south, killed at least 18 and injured scores more on March 25. Many of the victims are said to have been visitors. Now, locals in the birthplace of classical Iranian literature are inviting panicked holidaymakers to their homes, offering unconditional stay and food. “All services will be offered for free until the harsh weather dies down,” one placard held by a volunteer in Shiraz read. Some even offer free body repairs for cars damaged in the downpours. Several local hotels and restaurants have joined the spontaneous campaign, dubbed “My Guest.”
Similar public initiatives are underway to deliver badly needed assistance to those hardest hit in the northern provinces of Golestan and Mazandaran. The aid is flowing in the form of cash donations as well as basic supplies collected from communities across Iran, including those still recovering from a devastating 2017 earthquake in the country’s west.
The government of President Hassan Rouhani has been under immense pressure for its perceived failure to handle the disaster. The president himself is under fire for staying away from the flood-hit areas. Seven days following the heavy rains, he has now traveled to the northern areas to oversee the relief operations. The government has already promised 7.1 trillion rials ($169 million) in compensation to affected households.
The powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has also established a strong presence. The force’s commander, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, was seen visiting inundated neighborhoods in the country’s north half-submerged in floodwaters. While both the government and the IRGC have stepped in, some Iranians are interpreting the promises of more relief as publicity stunts meant to burnish their status and rooted in political rivalry between moderates and hard-liners.
An initial investigation into the deadly disaster in Shiraz has now pointed to negligence as the main cause of the deaths. According to a report by a crisis management team, one of the old watercourses in the city had been blocked by local authorities, probably for urban planning purposes, leading to the destructive overflow.
Meanwhile, the governor of Fars province noted that warnings had been issued two weeks before the disaster. But some social media users argue that all roads leading to the site of the flash floods should have been blocked. “How where you unable to block people but managed to fully cordon off the tomb of Cyprus the Great on his commemoration day?” one person tweeted. Every year, Iranian nationalists organize the Cyrus Day ceremony on Oct. 29 to remember the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. But in recent years the plans have been hindered by a security clampdown by the Islamic Republic, which deems such activities pro-monarchist.
Coverage of the massive flooding included more from Iran’s ancient history. The iconic Persepolis monument, 60 kilometers (37 miles) northeast of Shiraz, reportedly remained unscathed amid the flooding. According to local officials, underground canals built by ancient Persians to avert flooding protected the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The news prompted praise from many Iranians, who drew comparisons between the current government’s handling of such crises with that of their forefathers.
Yet despite the trauma, the floods have not produced only sad news. Pictures went viral of a smiling young couple who had planned their wedding in Golestan province for March 28. They decided to hold the ceremony earlier. Instead of a grand hall, the bride and the groom wed before the other displaced in a temporary accommodation center.