Two strong earthquakes that struck north-west Iran on Saturday killed more than 250 people and left grieving survivors — buffeted by repeated aftershocks — in a state of trauma.
The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Sunday that the death toll now stood between 250 and 300.
At least 2,000 people were injured by the earthquakes, which rocked areas near the city of Tabriz in the East Azerbaijan province, within an hour of each other.
The first quake, of magnitude 6.2, jolted the Ahar area around 1600 hours local time, Fars News Agency (FNA) reported. Almost an hour later, a quake of 6 magnitude rocked the city of Varzaqan and its surroundings in the same province.
Thousands of people, rattled by at least 35 aftershocks, fled from their homes. Many families spent the night in parks, braving chilly conditions that prevail in the mountainous province.
Rescuers worked through the night and pulled out people from rubble. Television pictures showed people being taken on stretchers to hospitals and clinics.
The earthquakes caused extensive damage to property. FNA quoted provincial officials as saying that four villages were completely destroyed in Ahar, while 60 others suffered 50-80 per cent damage. In the Vazaqan region, 12 villages were completely destroyed.
Search and rescue work was completed on Sunday, but emergency squads were still on the ground to provide relief to those affected.
Hossein Derakshan, spokesman for the Iranian Red Crescent Society, said 5,626 tents were provided as temporary shelters.
Iran’s Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar pledged that the “devastated areas will be rebuilt strongly.”
Iran is prone to earthquakes as it sits astride several major faults in the earth’s crust.
In 2003, the south-eastern city of Bam was devastated by an earthquake that killed 31,000 people and destroyed the city’s ancient mud citadel, a major heritage site.