Iran Ends Rescue Efforts After Earthquakes Kill 220

Iran Ends Rescue Efforts After Earthquakes Kill at Least 220
Relatives mourn over the bodies of earthquake victims in the village Baje-Baj, near the town of Varzaqan on Sunday. Photographer: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Iran concluded efforts to rescue survivors of two earthquakes in the northwest that killed at least 220 people and left thousands homeless.

“Rescue operation have finished and all victims have been transferred to safe areas or hospitals,” Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi said today, according to the state-run Mehr news agency.

The temblors, with magnitudes of 6.4 and 6.3, struck yesterday near Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan province, destroying tens of villages, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said. At least 220 people were killed, IRNA cited Khalil Saei, crisis management director in East Azerbaijan, as saying. Vahid Dastjerdi said the final death toll isn’t expected to exceed 250.

Iran sits on several fault lines and is frequently hit by earthquakes. An estimated 40,000 people were killed when a temblor flattened the city of Bam in the southern province of Kerman in December 2003. Iran’s northwestern region is home to Azeris, who speak a Turkic language and are the country’s largest ethnic minority.

More than 1,000 emergency aid workers had been deployed to the towns of Ahar and Varzaghan to help dig people out from beneath the rubble, state television reported.

Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said Iran had received offers from abroad to aid earthquake victims and had declined them.

Tents for Homeless

“We will carry out relief work by relying on our domestic potential,” IRNA quoted Mohammad-Najjar as saying.

Some 4,000 tents have been set up and 18,000 packages of food and drinking water distributed, Mohammad-Najjar said.

“From today, we will seek to proceed in the best way possible with accommodation and food for the victims’ families,” he said, according to state television.

Moharram Foroughi, the governor of Varzaghan county, said 12 villages in his region were destroyed, according to IRNA. Five villages in the Ahar region were flattened and at least 40 sustained damage, Reza Sedighi, the governor of Ahar county, said in another IRNA report.

About 70 percent of the victims were women and children, Bahram Samadi-Rad, head of the coroner’s office in East Azerbaijan, said in a Mehr report.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quakes hit within 11 minutes of each other in the late afternoon. The first had a magnitude of 6.4 with an epicenter 12 miles (20 kilometers) west-southwest of Ahar. It was followed by a magnitude-6.3 temblor 19 miles west-southwest of the area. Both occurred at a depth of less than 6.2 miles, the USGS said in advisories on its website.

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