Overcrowded hospitals in northwest Iran struggled to cope with thousands of earthquake victims yesterday and rescuers raced to reach remote villages after two powerful quakes killed at least 250 people.
Thousands of people huddled in makeshift camps or slept in streets after Saturday’s quakes in fear of more aftershocks, 40 of which had already struck. A lack of tents and other supplies left them exposed to the night chill, one witness said.
Casualty figures are expected to rise, officials said, as some of the injured were in critical condition, while hundreds were trapped under rubble, inaccessible to rescue workers hampered by darkness in the first hours after the quakes.
“I saw some people whose entire home was destroyed and all their livestock killed,” local photographer Tahir Sadati said by telephone. “People need help, they need warm clothes, more tents, blankets and bread.”
The worst damage and most casualties appeared to have been in rural villages surrounding the towns of Ahar, Varzaghan and Harees, near the major city of Tabriz, Iranian media reported.
Many villages are hard to reach by road, hindering rescue efforts. Hospitals in Tabriz, Ardabil and other cities nearby took in many of the injured, residents and Iranian media said, and there were long lines of survivors waiting to be treated.
Aidin, a Tabriz resident, said he went to give blood at a local hospital on Saturday and saw staff struggling to cope with the influx of patients. Most patients had been taken there by their families, he said, indicating a shortage of ambulances.
Ahar’s 120-bed hospital was full, said Arash, a college student and resident of the town. There were traffic jams on the narrow road between Ahar and Tabriz as victims tried to reach hospitals, he said by telephone.
“People are scared and won’t go back into their houses because they fear the buildings aren’t safe,” he said.
The US Geological Survey measured Saturday’s first quake at magnitude 6.4 and said it struck 60km 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, 49km northeast of Tabriz.
Twelve villages were destroyed and about 60 suffered more than 50 percent damage in the quakes, Iranian media reported. About 110 villages were damaged, Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Hassan Ghadami told Fars news agency.