Iran announced two days of mourning as relief efforts turned to aiding survivors following two earthquakes in the northwest that killed at least 306 people and left thousands homeless.
The government has provided emergency accommodation to 16,000 people and set up 5,600 tents, Mahmoud Mozafar, head of relief and rescue at Iran’s Red Crescent Society, was cited as saying by state television. Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi said the quakes left at least 306 people dead, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Images on Iranian state television showed people in the region sleeping outside in streets and parks, without tents or supplies, as the local correspondent said they feared additional aftershocks. More than 50 aftershocks were recorded in the province in the past two days, according to the Tehran-based Iranian Seismological Center.
Iran announced two days of public mourning in East Azerbaijan, the province struck by the quakes. The northwest is home to Azeris, who speak a Turkic language and are the country’s largest ethnic minority.
The country sits on several fault lines and is frequently hit by earthquakes. An estimated 40,000 people were killed in 2003 when a temblor flattened the city of Bam in the southern province of Kerman.
The U.S. said yesterday it stands ready to offer assistance, according to a White House statement e-mailed to reporters. The Swiss government also expressed readiness yesterday to provide humanitarian assistance, according to an IRNA report. Russia said it, too, was ready to help, in a statement posted on the presidency’s website.
Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar said Iran had received offers from abroad and had declined them. “We will carry out relief work by relying on our domestic potential,” IRNA quoted him as saying.
Five villages in the Ahar region were flattened and at least 40 sustained damage, said Reza Sedighi, the governor of Ahar county, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. Moharram Foroughi, the governor of Varzaghan county, said 12 villages in his region were destroyed, according to another IRNA report.
The earthquakes “should have at most injured 10 people,” Bahram Akasheh, a seismologist, told the Iranian Labor News Agency. “A great deal of damage was sustained because of the unsuitable structures in our provinces and villages.”
Out of the 4,500 people who were injured, about 1,200 were transferred to hospitals mostly in Tabriz and the rest treated in ambulances and makeshift treatment centers, said Gholamreza Masoumi, a Health Ministry official and head of the emergency services, according to the state-run Fars news agency.
Masoumi said he was concerned about a shortage of makeshift toilets and bottled drinking water that could lead to a spread of disease. The corpses of farm animals, some of which were found lying near water sources, could also contribute to an outbreak, he said.
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 6.3-magnitude 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.