Middle East

Iran earthquake relief efforts begin after 250 killed

Destruction in Ishikhli village, near Varzaqan, Iran (12 Aug 2012)
Image caption Officials said dozens of villages had been severely damaged by the quake

Relief operations are under way in Iran after two strong earthquakes in the north-west left at least 250 people dead and more than 2,000 injured.

The 6.4 and 6.3 quakes struck near Tabriz and Ahar in in East Azerbaijan province on Saturday afternoon, followed by dozens of aftershocks.

More than 100 villages suffered damage - thousands of people spent the night in emergency shelters or in the open.

Relief agencies are providing survivors with tents, bread and drinking water.

The BBC's Mohsen Asgari in the capital Tehran says hundreds of people were rescued overnight, but that the aftershocks had made the operation exhausting.

By midday on Sunday, Deputy Interior Minister Hassan Ghadami said that "all those under debris have been rescued and the quake-stricken people are now being provided with their basic needs".

Our correspondent says the operation could be completely quickly because villagers knew each other well so knew where to search, and because the houses were small.

'Mass grave'

The towns of Haris and Varzaqan were also among those hit and one resident of Tabriz told the BBC: "The quake has created huge panic among the people. Everyone has rushed to the streets."

But local officials said all the deaths have been in rural areas, not in the main towns and cities.

The official Fars news agency reported that about 110 villages had been damaged. At least were four totally flattened and 60 others sustained extensive damage.

"This village is a mass grave," said Alireza Haidaree, who had been searching for survivors in Baje Baj village.

"There are so many other villages that have been completely destroyed," he told AFP.

Reports said rescuers attempting to contact remote villages had to do so by radio as many phone lines were cut off.

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Media captionThe BBC's Mohsen Asgari says the authorities are now concentrating on helping survivors

A resident of Tabriz told Reuters that a local hospital he visited to give blood was struggling to cope with the number of injured people, most of whom had been taken there by their families.

Arash, a resident of Ahar, told Reuters the hospital there was full, and that the road between the two towns was jammed with people trying to find medical help.

Stadium shelter

Dozens of families spent the night outdoors in parks, and television showed footage of bodies lying in a mortuary in Ahar, including those of children.

There were reports that in some areas many of the victims were women, who had been inside homes preparing evening meals to break the Ramadan fast.

A 13-year-old girl near the village of Mirza Ali Kandi told AFP she survived because she had been playing outside her house when the quake struck, but that her brother and sister, who had stayed inside, were both killed.

One farmer from the village of Qanbar Mehdizade said he and his family also survived because they had been working in the open fields at the time.

Interior Minister Moustafa Mohammad-Najjar told state media that reconstruction work would begin immediately, to ensure homes were built before the onset of winter.

Sixty-six rescue teams have been sent to the region, along with about 200 ambulances and five helicopters.

The Red Crescent has provided 3,000 tents, blankets, food and blood supplies. It also took over a sports stadium to provide emergency shelter to about 16,000 people who had fled their homes.

But Iranian politician Mohammad Hassan-Nejad said relief groups had still not been able to reach the more remote areas and warned the death toll could rise.

The Turkish Red Crescent said it was sending emergency supplies to the border, but AFP quoted officials as saying Iran would be able to handle the disaster itself.

The first quake struck 23km (14 miles) south-west of Ahar and 58km (36) miles north-east of Tabriz at 16:54 local time (12:23 GMT) on Saturday, said the US Geological Survey.

The second earthquake struck just 11 minutes after the first, slightly closer to Tabriz.

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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