Thousands fled their homes and stayed outside as the area was hit by at least 20 aftershocks, reports Reuters. Iranian officials are fearing that casualty numbers will rise because some of the injured are in critical condition, while others are trapped in the rubble, waiting for researchers to reach them. Some of the affected villages have not yet been reached.
Officials estimate that about 60 villages were affected, and that they have sustained at least 50 percent damage. This is not the first huge earthquake for Iran, which sits on top of major fault lines.
An earthquake in 2003 was measured at 6.6 magnitude and decimated the historic city of Bam, killing more than 25,000 people in the process.
According to the US Geological Survey, Saturday’s initial earthquake measured 6.4 magnitude on the Richter scale, and struck 37 miles northeast of Tabriz about 6.2 miles deep. 11 minutes later, another earthquake struck 30 miles northeast of the same city, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale at the same depth as the first.
IRNA quoted Bahram Samadirad, a provincial official from the coroner’s office, as saying that:
“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.”
The BBC notes that one resident of Tabriz recalled:
“The quake has created huge panic among the people. Everyone has rushed to the streets and the sirens of ambulances are everywhere.”
Tabriz resident Amina Zia told the BBC that:
“My family is really terrified. It is night time now but we cannot sleep. This earthquake was… very strong and violent. There were around 10 aftershocks, which lasted a total of 10 minutes.”
A provincial official has encouraged residents to stay outside overnight, because of the risk of aftershocks and additional damage to already compromised buildings. Meanwhile, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s office released a statement expressing his condolences to those affected by the Iran earthquakes, calling on authorities to “mobilise all efforts to help the affected populations.”