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Iran quakes death toll rises to 250, as search goes on
Rescuers in Iran are searching through the rubble of collapsed buildings for survivors from two strong earthquakes which left at least 250 people dead.
The 6.4 and 6.3 quakes struck near Tabriz and Ahar on Saturday afternoon, and more than 2,000 are believed injured, many in outlying villages.
Thousands spent the night in emergency shelters or in the open and there have been more than 55 aftershocks.
Relief agencies are providing survivors with tents, bread and drinking water.
The numbers of victims is expected to rise.
Reports say phone lines to many villages have been cut off, confining rescuers to radio contact.
"The quake has created huge panic among the people," one resident of Tabriz told the BBC. "Everyone has rushed to the streets and the sirens of ambulances are everywhere."
The towns of Haris and Varzaqan in East Azerbaijan province in north-western Iran were among those that suffered casualties, local crisis committee chief Khalil Saei told state TV according to the Associated Press.
Iran's Deputy Interior Minister Hassan Ghadami told the official Fars news agency that about 110 villages had been damaged.
State TV said at least six villages were totally flattened, with 60 other villages sustaining damage ranging from 50% to 80%.
'My family is terrified'
Rescue workers have been sent to the region, but relief efforts have been limited overnight.
"Unfortunately there are still a number of people trapped in the rubble but finding them is very difficult because of the darkness," news agency Fars quoted national emergency head Gholam Reza Masoumi as saying.
State TV broadcast footage of dozens of families sleeping outdoors in parks, and bodies lying on the floor of a morgue in Ahar, including those of children.
As morning came, search teams with sniffer dogs began working through the wreckage in Tabriz.
But a BBC reporter in Tehran says the continuing aftershocks have made the rescue effort exhausting work.
Almost all deaths seem to have been confined to rural areas, local disaster officials said - probably because buildings in the cities are more sturdily constructed.
The timing of the quake, during evening in the holy month of Ramadan, also meant it caught many people indoors as they were resting after fasting during the day.
An Iranian Red Crescent official estimated that 16,000 people had been given emergency shelter in a sports stadium after they were forced to leave their homes.
The Red Crescent has provided 3,000 tents, blankets and tonnes of food.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's office posted a statement on its website expressing condolences to those in the disaster zone and calling on authorities to "mobilise all efforts to help the affected populations," the AFP news agency reports.
A provincial official has warned people in the region to stay outdoors overnight because of the risk of aftershocks.
"My family is really terrified. It is night time now but we cannot sleep," Tabriz resident Amina Zia told the BBC.
"This earthquake was... very strong and violent.
The first quake struck 23km (14 miles) south-west of Ahar and 58km (36) miles north-east of Tabriz at 16:54 local time (12:23 GMT) on Saturday, said the US Geological Survey.
The second earthquake struck just 11 minutes after the first, slightly closer to Tabriz.
Iran straddles a major geological fault line, making it prone to seismic activity. In 2003 an earthquake in the city of Bam left 25,000 people dead.
Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2012 BBC
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