Death toll rises after Iran quakes

2012-08-11 22:52
Ruins of houses are seen after an earthquake in the city of Varzaqan in northwestern Iran. (Hamed Nazari, Mehr News Agency, AP)

Ruins of houses are seen after an earthquake in the city of Varzaqan in northwestern Iran. (Hamed Nazari, Mehr News Agency, AP)

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Tehran - Rescue teams in northwest Iran were striving on Saturday night to dig survivors out of the rubble of twin strong earthquakes that levelled villages and killed at least 180 people and injured 1 300 others, according to an official toll.

The scale of the disaster was still emerging as rescue operations in the devastated zone northeast of the city of Tabriz pushed through the night after Saturday's quakes.

With telephone communications interrupted by the quakes, emergency teams were relying on radios and travelling in person to hard-hit villages to assess and rescue.

The quakes, which struck on Saturday within 11 minutes of each other, measured 6.2 and 6.0 on the moment magnitude scale, according to Tehran University's Seismological Centre.

The US Geological Survey, which monitors seismic activity worldwide, ranked them as more powerful than that, at 6.4 and 6.3, respectively.

Toll mounting

"Unfortunately, the toll is mounting and we are now at 180 dead and some 1 300 injured," Khalil Saie, the head of the regional natural disasters centre, told state television .

"Up to now, there are no deaths reported in the cities and all the victims come from rural areas," he said.

Earlier he told the television: "We are asking people to not panic. Help is arriving and rescuers are already at the scene."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's office posted a statement on its website expressing condolences to those in the disaster zone and calling on authorities to "mobilise all efforts to help the affected populations".

According to the local Red Crescent, cited by the official news agency IRNA, at least 210 people had already been rescued and taken to hospital.

An emergency services official said 66 rescue teams were at work, using 40 devices and seven dog squads to detect buried survivors. He said 185 ambulances had been sent to the area.

Those hurt were taken to hospitals in Tabriz and Ardebil, the two biggest nearby cities, both of which escaped relatively unscathed by the temblors.

Villages outlying the towns of Ahar and Varzaqan, 60km from Tabriz, were decimated, being closest to the epicentres of the two quakes. Dwellings close to Heris, another town close by, were also badly shaken.

Residents in the region were terrified as their homes shook around them when the quakes hit, and they fled into the streets for safety, according to reports.

Read more on:    iran  |  earthquakes
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