DUBAI - Two powerful earthquakes killed 250 people and injured around 1,800 in northwest Iran where rescue workers frantically combed the rubble of dozens of villages throughout the night and into Sunday as medical staff desperately tried to save lives.
Thousands huddled in makeshift camps or slept in the streets after Saturday's quakes in fear of more aftershocks, 40 of which have already struck.
Casualty figures are expected to rise, Iranian officials said, as some
of the injured were in critical condition while others were still
trapped under the rubble in inaccessible places and rescue efforts were
hampered by the darkness.
Six villages were destroyed and about 60 sustained more than 50 percent damage, Iranian media reported.
Photographs posted on Iranian news websites showed numerous bodies, including children, lying on the floor of a white-tiled morgue in the town of Ahar and medical staff treating the injured in the open air as dusk fell.
Other images showed massive destruction wrought by the earthquakes and rescue workers digging people out of the rubble, some alive, many dead.
Iran is situated on major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that reduced the historic southeastern city of Bam to dust and killed more than 25,000 people.
The US Geological Survey measured Saturday's first quake at 6.4 magnitude and said it struck 60 km (37 miles) northeast of the city of Tabriz at a depth of 9.9 km (6.2 miles). A second quake measuring 6.3 struck 49 km (30 miles) northeast of Tabriz 11 minutes later at a similar depth.
Officials said 250 people had been killed and about 1,800 injured, Iran's state news agency, IRNA, reported.
The second quake struck near the town of Varzaghan. "The quake was so intense that people poured into the streets through fear," said the news agency Fars.