Two strong earthquakes have hit northwestern Iran, killing at least 80 people and injuring scores more, Iranian officials have told the state news agency.
Khalid Saie, the head of the regional natural disasters centre, said that 30 people were killed in Ahar, 40 in Varzaqan and 17 others in Haris after the earthquakes in East Azerbaijan province.
He said that more than 400 people had also been injured.
Earlier, Gholamreza Masoumi, the country’s head of emergency services said that the injured were being taken to Tabriz, the biggest city in the region, and Ardebil, a neighouring province.
Panicked residents fled their homes after the earthquakes on Saturday, which the US Geological Survey ranked at 6.4 and 6.3 on the Richter scale.
Tehran University’s Seismological Centre said the first earthquake hit at 4:53pm local time (12:23 GMT) with an epicentre just 60km from Tabriz, close to the town of Ahar, and a depth of 10km.
The second – a big aftershock – hit 11 minutes later from nearly the same spot. A series of 11 smaller aftershocks rating 4.7 or below rapidly followed.
“We are asking people to not panic,” Saie said. “Help is arriving and rescuers are already at the scene.”
Ahmad Alireza Beigi, the regional governor, told state television that while the city of Tabriz was relatively free of major damage, he was more concerned about the surrounding villages.
“Sixty villages… have been heavily damaged and are in need of help,” Abbas Fallah, a lawmaker in the hard-hit town of Ahar, told the semi-official Mehr news agency.
Morteza Akbarpour, a crisis management official at the interior ministry, told the Fars news agency that 50 hurt people from one town, Varazqan, were taken to hospital.
Allahverdi Dehqani, a lawmaker in Varazqan, confirmed to Mehr that “most of the villages around Varazqan have been damaged”.
Iran sits astride several major fault lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes, some of which have been devastating.
The deadliest was a 6.6-magnitude quake which struck the southern city of Bam in December 2003, killing 31,000 people – about a quarter of the population – and destroying the city’s ancient mud-built citadel.
Source Article from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/08/2012811154351584427.html