JNN 12 Aug 2012 TABRIZ – Two strong earthquakes struck northwest Iran on Saturday, killing 153 people and injuring more than 1,300 as buildings were reduced to rubble ,measuring 6.4 and 6.3 on the Richter scale that hit the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan in succession on Saturday. , Iranian officials said.
The quakes struck at 4:53 p.m. and 5:04 p.m. local time, and the epicenters of the quakes were located 15 kilometers away from the Varzaqan region, about 511 kilometers northwest of Tehran.
Thousands fled their homes and remained outdoors as at least 20 aftershocks hit the area., the local residents decided to spend the night outdoors due to fear that another jolt would hit.
According to the latest reports at the press time of the Tehran Times, 30 people have been killed in Varzaqan and about 20 people have been killed in A’har, two cities near the epicenter of the quakes.
Casualty numbers could well rise, Iranian officials feared, as some of the injured are in a critical condition, others are still trapped under the rubble and rescuers have yet to reach some of the affected villages.
Iran is straddled by major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 which turned the southeastern historic city of Bam into dust and killed more than 25,000 people.
“So far 30 bodies (from Varzaqan) have been handed over to the Forensic Medicine Organization,” East Azerbaijan Forensic Medicine Organization Director General Bahram Samadi said.
Medical sources put the number of injured at about 400 people.
Deputy Interior Minister Hassan Ghadami said 153 people had been killed and provincial official Khalil Sa’ie said some 1,300 had been injured, the semi-official Fars news agency reported
Mahmoud Mozafar, the director of the state rescue organization, said the quakes had cut communication lines with villages in the A’har and Varzaqan regions and disrupted cell phone communications in Tabriz.
In addition, a gas pipeline has cracked in A’har, causing a fire hazard.
The roads to four villages in the region have been cut due to damage from the earthquakes.
The quakes caused cracks in some buildings in Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan province.
The quakes were also felt in the neighboring provinces of West Azerbaijan, Zanjan, and Ardebil.
Some 210 people in Varzaghan and Ahar have been rescued from under the rubble of collapsed buildings, the Islamic Republic news agency(IRNA) said, quoting a local official.
Tabriz is a major city and trading hub far from Iran’s oil-producing areas and known nuclear facilities. Though most buildings in the city are robust, homes and businesses in Iranian villages are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.
A local provincial official urged people in the region to stay outdoors during the night in case of further aftershocks, according to IRNA. Lawmaker Abbas Falah said people in the region are in need of bread, tents and drinking water
The second quake struck near the town of Varzaghan. “The quake was so intense that people poured into the streets through fear,” Fars news agency said of the town.
“So far 73 bodies from Varzaghan and Ahar have been handed over to the coroner’s office,” IRNA quoted Bahram Samadirad, a provincial official from the office, as saying.
He added, “Since some people are in a critical condition and rescue workers are still trying to rescue people from under the rubble, unfortunately it is possible for the number of casualties to rise.”
Photographs posted by Iranian news websites showed about a dozen bodies lying on the floor in the corner of a white-tiled morgue in Ahar, and medical staff, surrounded by anxious residents, working on the injured in the open air as dusk fell.
Homes and businesses in Iranian villages, however, are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.
Fars quoted lawmaker Abbas Falahi as saying he believed rescue workers had not yet been able to reach between 10 and 20 villages.
A local provincial official urged people in the region to stay outdoors during the night for fear of aftershocks, according to IRNA. Falahi said people in the region were in need of bread, tents and drinking water.