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Iran earthquakes leave hundreds dead
Almost 300 people feared dead and 2,600 injured after quakes measuring 6.4 and 6.3 magnitude flatten villages
Yeganeh Torbati, Reuters, in Dubai
Monday August 13 2012
Overcrowded hospitals in north-west Iran struggled to cope with thousands of earthquake victims on Sunday as rescuers raced to reach remote villages after two powerful earthquakes killed nearly 300 people.
Thousands huddled in makeshift camps or slept in the street after Saturday's quakes in fear of more aftershocks, 60 of which had already struck. "I saw some people whose entire home was destroyed, and all their livestock killed," Tahir Sadati, a local photographer, said by telephone. "People need help, they need warm clothes, more tents, blankets and bread."
The worst damage and most casualties appeared to be in rural villages around the towns of Ahar, Varzaghan and Harees, near the major city of Tabriz.
Close to 300 people were believed to be dead with 2,600 injured, Ahar's local governor told the semi-official Fars news agency.
Tabriz resident Ahmad, 41, said his cousin living in a village near Ahar has been killed and his body recovered.
"Nobody knows what happened to his wife and two daughters," aged four and seven, Ahmad said. "We fear that if rescuers don't get to them soon, they will lose their lives too if they're still alive."
But Iranian officials said rescue operations had ended by Sunday afternoon, Iran's English-language Press TV reported.
About 16,000 people in the quake-hit area have been given emergency shelter, Red Crescent official Mahmoud Mozafar told Mehr news agency, and 44,000 food packages and 5,600 tents distributed by Red Crescent workers.
But Iranian MP Mohammad Hassan-Nejad warned that if relief efforts did not speed up, the death toll would rise swiftly.
"Relief groups have still not reached many villages, because in normal conditions some of these villages are several hours away," he told the Iranian Students' News Agency. "Currently the roads are closed and the only way to reach these villages is by air."
Photographs posted on Iranian news websites showed many bodies, including those of children, lying on the floor of a white-tiled morgue in Ahar and medical staff treating the injured in the open air as dusk fell on Saturday. Other images showed rescue workers digging people out of rubble ? some alive, many dead.
Hospitals in Tabriz, Ardabil and other cities nearby took in many of the injured, residents and Iranian media said, and there were long queues of survivors waiting to be treated.
Aidin, another Tabriz resident, said he went to give blood at a local hospital on Saturday and saw staff struggling to cope with the influx of patients. Most had been taken there by their families, he said, indicating a shortage of ambulances.
Ahar's 120-bed hospital was full, said Arash, a college student and resident of the town. There were traffic jams on the narrow road between Ahar and Tabriz as victims tried to reach hospitals, he said by telephone.
"People are scared and won't go back into their houses because they fear the buildings aren't safe," he added.
The US Geological Survey measured Saturday's first quake at 6.4 magnitude and said it struck 37 miles north-east of Tabriz, a trading hub far from Iran's oil-producing areas and known nuclear facilities.
The second, measuring 6.3, struck 11 minutes later near Varzaghan, 30 miles north-east of Tabriz.
More than 1,000 villages in the area were affected by the earthquakes, said Ahmad Reza Shaji'i, a Red Crescent official. About 130 villages suffered more than 70% damage, and 20 villages were completely destroyed.
Iran is crisscrossed by major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that reduced the historic south-eastern city of Bam to dust and killed about 31,000 people.
Saturday's quakes struck in East Azerbaijan province, a mountainous region that neighbours Azerbaijan and Armenia to the north. Buildings in Tabriz, the provincial capital, are substantially built and ISNA reported nobody in the city had been killed or hurt.
Homes and business premises in Iranian villages, however, are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, sent a telegram to the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on Sunday expressing his sympathy and offering assistance, the Kremlin's press-service said. Pope Benedict XVI asked Christians to pray for the victims of the quakes.
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