The United States on Sunday offered aid to Iran after the country was ravaged by two earthquakes that killed nearly 300 people and injured around 5,000.

"We stand ready to offer assistance in this difficult time," the White House said.

Thousands huddled in makeshift camps or slept in the street 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, one witness told Reuters.

"The American people send the Iranian people our deepest condolences for the loss of life in the tragic earthquake in northeastern Iran," the White House stated. "Our thoughts are with the families of those who were lost, and we wish the wounded a speedy recovery."



The worst damage and most casualties appeared to have been in rural villages around the towns of Ahar, Varzaghan and Harees, near the major city of Tabriz, Iranian media reported.

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, a trading hub far from Iran's oil-producing areas and known nuclear facilities.

The second, measuring 6.3, struck 11 minutes later near Varzaghan, 49 km (30 miles) northeast of Tabriz.

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 (ISNA). Some 130 villages suffered more than 70 percent damage, and 20 villages were completely destroyed, he said.

Nearly 100 ambulances and 1,100 Red Crescent workers were deployed, Shaji'i said, along with 44,000 food packages and 5,600 tents for shelter. The relief agency had enough supplies and most residents in the area had access to clean water but Shaji'i asked residents to donate cash to the relief effort.

Tehran officials sent condolences to the victims and declared two days of mourning in the province, ISNA reported.

About 36,000 people in the quake-hit area have been given emergency shelter, Masoumi was quoted as saying by ISNA.

Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Hassan-Nejad warned that if relief efforts did not speed up, the death toll would swiftly rise.

"Relief groups have still not reached many villages, because in normal conditions some of these villages are several hours away," he told ISNA. "Currently the roads are closed and the only way to reach these villages is by air."

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.

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