CAIRO —Thousands of people in Iran's East Azerbaijan province are struggling to cope after their homes were destroyed by two powerful earthquakes that struck minutes apart. Iranian TV says that 12 villages were reduced to rubble and 60 more were badly damaged by the quakes, which measured 6.4 and 6.3 on the Richter scale. At least 250 people were reported killed.
Iranian TV showed images of villagers walking along rubble-strewn roads in the East Azerbaijan village of Ahr, which it said was destroyed by the quakes. Mud-brick houses appeared to have collapsed, leaving gaping holes and burying residents under piles of rubble.
The video also showed scores of victims of the quakes being treated in hospitals in the cities of Tabriz and Ardebil. Family members gathered around the injured in hospital corridors filled with makeshift beds and equipment.
Iran's Health Minister, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, spoke to reporters in one damaged village, saying aid organizations were doing their best to help the victims.
She says that "families need to bury their dead, at which point we must help them with food, water and tents to live in." She adds that provisional hospitals will be set up in villages to treat the wounded and they will be supplied with needed medication.
Medics and Red Crescent workers transported hundreds of casualties to larger hospitals by ambulance and specially equipped buses. One rescue worker says that more than 1,000 of the wounded were taken to the hospital and that 11 search and rescue teams with radar devices were deployed to the scene of the quakes. He adds that 400 rescue vehicles were sent out along with aid supplies, food and blankets.
Iran's English-language Press TV reported that rescue operations had been called off as of Sunday afternoon and that all those buried under the rubble had been pulled out. Witnesses, however, told news agencies that many collapsed homes have yet to be searched.
Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar visited the quake region on Sunday, praising rescue workers for their efforts in helping the victims.
He says that everyone involved responded well with whatever resources they had to this sudden disaster. He praises them for working so hard and thanks them for their efforts.
Iran has numerous fault lines running across large portions of the country, causing frequent earthquakes. Close to 40,000 people were reported to be killed after a particularly violent quake in the Bam region of the country in 2003.