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Contradictory Statements from Iran’s State Officials Amid Rising Flood Death Toll

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As the death toll from recent floods in Iran continues to rise, the regime’s inconsistent reporting and refusal to disclose official casualty figures have sparked controversy. Three days after devastating floods struck Khorasan Razavi province, Iranian authorities have yet to provide clear information on the number of victims and missing persons, instead offering contradictory statistics. Local and state officials are also obscuring the extent of damage to people and infrastructure.

State-controlled media have reported floods and waterlogging in various other provinces, acknowledging that 14 provinces (East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Isfahan, Tehran, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Khorasan Razavi, North Khorasan, Zanjan, Semnan, Fars, Qazvin, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Gilan, and Mazandaran) are in need of emergency services.

Government officials, including those close to the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have deflected responsibility for the disaster, attributing it to natural causes. 

On May 17, Ahmad Alamolhoda, Khamenei’s representative in Mashhad, stated during a Friday prayer in Qom, “This was an unexpected flood, unprecedented in Mashhad. Hence, it’s incorrect to question why measures weren’t taken earlier. These events are beyond human control and shouldn’t be blamed on any entity.”

The head of the crisis management organization in Khorasan Razavi also advised residents to stay indoors and avoid urban and intercity travel on Saturday. However, some officials have pointed to the government’s role in the disaster. Musa-al-Reza Hajibeglou, a member of the Supreme Council of Provinces, told ILNA news agency on May 18, “When they carved up the mountains and built unauthorized recreational facilities, they should have anticipated that flooding would inundate the streets and highways of Mashhad, leading to such a tragedy.”

Ali Beitollahi, a researcher at the Road, Housing, and Urban Development Research Center, stated on Saturday, “The watercourses in Mashhad, which previously directed floodwaters to the Kashaf River, have been either sold off or built over. The consequences of these actions are evident in the loss of lives during the flood.” He emphasized that in the absence of human interference, the flood would not have caused such extensive damage.

Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, addressing the legislature on Sunday, called for “attention” to the problem of “reinforcing unstable structures in the Seyedi Neighborhood of Mashhad,” but did not address the issue of selling watercourses for unauthorized construction in Mashhad and other parts of the province.

The state-run newspaper Etemad criticized local authorities, noting, “Despite meteorological warnings, the governorate, municipality, and governorship of Khorasan were caught off guard. On Wednesday, they were setting up chairs for an event at the Ferdowsi mausoleum, while the scale of the disaster was so vast that the fire department couldn’t attend to all the affected.”

Environmental activists have previously condemned the destruction of mountains and watercourses in Mashhad, warning of the consequences. Mashhad has some of the most deteriorated urban areas in Iran, and a significant proportion of the country’s unstable buildings are located in Khorasan Razavi, according to official reports.