Iran on Sunday wrapped up rescue operation in hundreds of villages flattened by twin earthquakes a day earlier in its northwest, as officials gave a new toll of 300 dead and 2,000 injured in the disaster.
“Search and rescue operations have ended and we are now working to ensure survivors’ needs in terms of shelter and food,” Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar told IRIB.
He conveyed the new toll, lower and more precise than one provided earlier by his ministry, as local officials verified information gathered in the hectic first hours after the two quakes hit on Saturday.
The first of the earthquakes registered a strong 6.4 on the moment magnitude scale, according to the US Geological Survey, which monitors seismic activity worldwide.
The second, almost as strong at 6.3 on the scale, rumbled through just 11 minutes later. While the biggest city in the region, Tabriz, and nearby towns escaped with only relatively minor damage, scores of outlying villages made of more flimsy adobe and concrete bricks were decimated.
Mohammad-Najjar said around half the 600 villages located in the zone were damaged or destroyed. He said that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had given orders on Sunday for home reconstruction to begin immediately because of the harsh winter the region will experience at the end of the year.
An estimated 16,000 people were left homeless by the quakes. Red Crescent trucks carrying thousands of tents were seen plying the roads in the area that were still congested with ambulances and other emergency vehicles.