Iran steps up relief efforts after Saturday's quakes

The BBC's Mohsen Asgari: "Clinics have been set up in the area"

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Iran has raised the death toll from Saturday's twin quakes in the north-west to 306 people killed, after calling off the search for survivors and stepping up the relief effort.

Iran's Red Crescent has taken over a sports stadium and provided 6,000 tents to some 16,000 people left homeless.

Authorities say the search-and-rescue operations have ended because most residents are accounted for.

But reports suggest some are still missing and others badly need aid.

The first, 6.4-magnitude quake struck at 17:23 local time (12:23 GMT) on Saturday north-east of the city of Tabriz, said the US Geological Survey, with the second 6.3 tremor striking in the same area only 11 minutes later.

Heath Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi told parliament the number jumped by about 50 after victims died in hospital and some of those killed were buried by their families before officials arrived at the scene.

More than 3,000 people were injured, he added.

State television reported some 20 villages in the mountainous region were totally destroyed, while hundreds have been damaged.

"The moment the earthquake hit, it was like a snake biting from underground. It was the worst experience of my life," Morteza Javid, 47, from Ahar told the Associated Press news agency.

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The region experiences harsh winters, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered reconstruction to begin immediately, with the government promising to allocate funds to rebuild homes.

Two days of mourning have been declared in the region.

'Dire need'

"Search-and-rescue operations have ended and we are now working to ensure survivors' needs in terms of shelter and food," Interior Minister Moustafa Mohammad-Najjar told state television, according to the AFP news agency.

Officials said most residents of affected villages had been accounted for, as they are small and sparsely populated.

Iran is one of the world's most seismically active countries and relief operations are well rehearsed, correspondents say.

Urged on by Supreme Leader Ali Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, emergency workers from around Iran poured into the region. The Red Crescent has distributed tonnes of food, water and medical supplies alongside thousands of tents.

State TV said 44,000 food packages and thousands of blankets were being handed out and in Tehran long queues formed as people waited to donate blood and relief supplies to be sent to the affected area.

Iran's earthquake history

  • March 2006 - at least 70 people are killed and nearly 1,000 injured by a 6.0 magnitude quake in Lorestan province
  • February 2005 - more than 500 people killed by a strong quake near Zahran, in Kerman province
  • December 2003 - a 6.6 magnitude quake destroys the ancient city of Bam, killing more than 25,000 people
  • May 1997 - more than 1,600 killed in Birjand, eastern Iran, in a 7.1 magnitude quake
  • February 1997 - a 5.5 magnitude quake kills about 1,000 in north-western Iran
  • June 1990 - some 40,000 die in a tremor in the northern Gilan province

Iran has turned down offers of help from the US, Turkey, Taiwan, Singapore and Germany, saying it was able to cope by itself, AFP reported.

Nevertheless, hospitals in the main regional city, Tabriz, said they were overwhelmed with the injured and reports quote residents saying they are still searching for missing relatives.

Abbas Falahi, member of parliament for Ahar and Harees, told the semi-official Mehr news agency that some villagers were "in dire need of food and drinking water".

"Despite the promises of officials, little first aid has been distributed in the region and most people are left without tents. If the situation continues, the toll will rise," he said.

Iran straddles a major geological fault line, making it prone to seismic activity. In 2003, an earthquake in the city of Bam left more than 25,000 people dead.

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