Iran: two earthquakes in north-west leave at least 180 dead

TEHRAN. August 12. KAZINFORM Two strong earthquakes have killed 180 people and injured another 1,300 in north-west Iran where rescuers frantically combed through the rubble of dozens of villages on Saturday night.

Thousands fled their homes and remained outdoors after the quakes as at least 20 aftershocks hit the area.

Casualty numbers could rise, Iranian officials feared, as some of the injured were in a critical condition, others were still trapped under the rubble and rescuers had yet to reach some of the affected villages. Sixty villages had sustained more than 50% damage, Iranian media said.

Iran is straddled by major fault lines and has had several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 which turned the south-eastern historic city of Bam into dust and killed more than 25,000 people.

The US Geological Survey measured Saturday's first quake at 6.4 magnitude and said it struck 37 miles north-east of the city of Tabriz at a depth of 9.9km. A second quake measuring 6.3 struck 49km north-east of Tabriz 11 minutes later at a similar depth.

Provincial official Khalil Sa'ie said 180 people had been killed and about 1,300 injured, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The second quake struck near the town of Varzaghan. "The quake was so intense that people poured into the streets through fear," Fars news agency said of the town.

About 210 people in Varzaghan and Ahar were rescued from under the rubble of collapsed buildings, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"Since some people are in a critical condition and rescue workers are still trying to rescue people from under the rubble, unfortunately it is possible for the number of casualties to rise," IRNA quoted Bahram Samadirad, a provincial official from the coroner's office, as saying.

Photographs posted by Iranian news websites showed about a dozen bodies lying on the floor in the corner of a white-tiled morgue in Ahar and medical staff surrounded by anxious residents working on the injured in the open air as dusk fell.

"I was just on the phone talking to my mother when she said 'There's just been an earthquake,' then the line was cut," one woman from Tabriz, who lives outside Iran, wrote on Facebook after telephoning her mother in the city, Kazinform cites the Guardian.

"God, what has happened? After that I couldn't get through. God has also given me a slap and it was very hard."

Tabriz is a major city and trading hub far from Iran's oil producing areas and known nuclear facilities. Buildings in the city are robust and the Iranian Students' News Agency said nobody in the city itself had been killed or hurt.

Homes and businesses in Iranian villages, however, are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.

Red Crescent official Mahmoud Mozafar was quoted by Mehr news agency as saying about 16,000 people in the quake-hit area had been given emergency shelter.

Fars quoted lawmaker Abbas Falahi as saying he believed rescue workers had not yet been able to reach between 10 and 20 villages.

A local provincial official urged people in the region to stay outdoors during the night for fear of aftershocks, according to IRNA. Falahi said people in the region were in need of bread, tents and drinking water.

The Turkish Red Crescent said it was sending a truck full of emergency supplies to the border, an official said. Turkey's foreign ministry said it had informed Iran it was ready to help.


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