Iran boosts quake relief efforts
Iran has moved to boost its relief operations following two earthquakes around the northeastern city of Tabriz.
The country's Red Crescent has taken over a sports stadium and given 6,000 tents to some 16,000 people without homes or unwilling to return to their houses.
Overcrowded hospitals in northwest Iran yesterday struggled to cope with thousands injured by the pair of powerful earthquakes that killed nearly 300 people and wrecked scores of villages.
Thousands huddled in makeshift camps or slept in parks after Saturday's quakes for fear of more aftershocks, 60 of which had already struck. A lack of tents and other supplies left them exposed to the night chill, witnesses said.
Doctors in the provincial capital Tabriz, the city of Ardabil and other towns worked flat out, and roads to the cities were clogged with traffic as relatives ferried the injured from the outlying villages that were worst affected by the twin quakes. Long queues formed at the hospitals.
"From last night until this afternoon when I left Shohada-ye Tabriz hospital, doctors were constantly performing operations. It was a horrific tragedy but people and officials did all they could," a doctor working in Tabriz said by telephone.
"Ordinary people were working alongside rescuers. They were bringing food and water to the hospital. Some were using their cars to bring the relatives of those injured to the hospital."
The worst damage and most casualties appeared to have been in villages around the towns of Ahar, Varzaghan and Harees, near Tabriz, Iranian media said.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged officials last night to help those affected by the earthquake, which the US Geological Survey said measured 6.4 and 6.3 magnitude and struck 11 minutes apart, northeast of Tabriz.
The city is an important trading hub far from Iran's oil-producing areas and known nuclear facilities. Buildings inside Tabriz are substantially built and there were no injuries there. But homes in the villages are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.
More than 1,000 villages in the area were affected by the earthquakes, Ahmad Reza Shaji'i, a Red Crescent official, told the Iranian Students' News Agency. Some 130 villages suffered more than 70 per cent damage, and 20 villages were destroyed, he said.
Abbas Falahi, member of parliament for Ahar and Harees, said people in some villages were still "in dire need of food and drinking water", the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
"Despite the promises of officials, little first aid has been distributed in the region and most people are left without tents. If the situation continues, the toll will rise," he said.