Tehran:  Rescuers ended the search on Sunday for survivors of twin earthquakes in northwestern Iran that killed at least 250 people and injured more than 2,600 a day earlier, state television reported.

At least 20 villages were totally leveled, state television reported. Ahmad Reza Shajiei, a senior government official in charge of rescue operations, said more than 5,000 tents have been set up to shelter more than 16,000 homeless.

Thousands spent the night outdoors after their villages were leveled and homes damaged in the powerful quakes, which were followed by some 36 aftershocks.

The semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted a local official as saying the death toll was 277.
State TV said 44,000 food packages and thousands of blankets have been distribute in the stricken area.

Television video showed people being evacuated on stretchers, while others were treated for broken limbs and concussions. Dozens of families were sleeping on blankets laid out on the ground in parks. Some were crying, and others shivered from the cold in the mountainous region hit by the quake, near the border with Azerbaijan.

More than 1,100 rescuers worked through the night to pull out those trapped under rubble and to reach some of the more remote villages affected. Some 15 dogs were brought in to search for survivors.

By afternoon, state television reported that search operations had ceased. The government's attention shifted to providing shelter to the homeless and removing debris from the buildings destroyed.

Officials said the search was ended relatively quickly because the remote area is sparsely populated.

Quakes came within 11 minutes

The quakes came within 11 minutes of each other, yesterday afternoon as many in the region were at home observing Ramadan fasting.

Tehran University's Seismological Centre put the first at a magnitude of 6.2 and – 11 minutes later the second, a strong aftershock, at 6.0. The US Geological Survey, which monitors seismic activity worldwide, ranked them as more powerful, at 6.4 and 6.3 on the moment magnitude scale, respectively.

The epicentre was 10 kilometres underground some 60 kilometres northeast of Tabriz, close to the towns of Ahar and Varzaqan. While Tabriz, with its more solid buildings, escaped relatively unscathed, some 60 villages in the region were decimated, half a dozen of them completely flattened.

"The number of dead has reached 250 and the number of injured has topped 2,000 people," Khalil Saie, the head of the regional natural disasters centre, was quoted as saying by the news agency. Earlier he had said that "all the deaths come from rural areas."


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