Two strong earthquakes have hit northwestern Iran, killing at least 40 people and injuring scores more, Iranian officials have told the state news agency.
“According to the latest reports, about 40 to 50 people have been killed in the quakes today … about 400 have also been injured and were transported to Tabriz and Ardebil,” Gholamreza Masoumi said, quoted by ISNA.
Masoumi was referring to the biggest cities in the region and a neighboring province.
Panicked residents fled their homes after the earthquakes, which the US Geological Survey ranked at 6.4 and 6.3 on the Richter scale.
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 “there are no reports of deaths so far”.
He added 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”.
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.
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.