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Iran Earthquake: Hospitals Struggling To Cope
Overcrowded hospitals in northwest Iran are struggling to cope with thousands of earthquake victims, as rescuers race to reach remote villages after two powerful tremors killed hundreds of people.
Thousands of people huddled in makeshift camps or slept in the streets after Saturday's quakes in fear of more aftershocks, 40 of which had already struck.
A lack of tents and other supplies has left them exposed to the night chill.
The number of people killed from the twin quakes remains unclear, with estimates ranging between 227 and 250 people. The casualty figures are expected to rise, officials said, as some of the injured were in a critical condition.
AFP reporters quoted interior minister Moustafa Mohammad-Najjar as saying: "Search and rescue operations have ended and we are now working to ensure survivors' needs in terms of shelter and food." But Reuters news agency said hundreds were stuck under rubble.
Rescuers had been digging through piles of debris over the weekend in an attempt to recover people who became trapped when homes and offices collapsed.
Pictures posted on Iranian news websites showed the bodies of men, women and children lying on the floor of a mortuary in the town of Ahar, 50 miles from the city of Tabriz.
Mourners wailed over the bodies of the dead, many of whom were women and children. Residents said a lot of the villages' men had been working their fields when the disaster struck.
"I saw some people whose entire home was destroyed, and all their livestock killed," said Tahir Sadati, a local photographer. "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, and there were long queues 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.
Makeshift medical centres have been set up in the open air with medical staff working through the night to save the lives of those in a critical condition.
The US Geological Survey measured Saturday's first quake at 6.4 magnitude and said it struck 37 miles 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 magnitude, struck 11 minutes later near Varzaghan, 30 miles northeast of Tabriz.
Twelve villages were destroyed and about 60 had more than 50% damage in the quakes, Iranian media reported. About 110 villages were damaged, deputy interior minister Hassan Ghadami told Fars news agency.
Mr Ghadami said 250 people had been killed and Red Crescent spokesman Hossein Derakhshan told Fars more than 2,000 people were believed to have been injured.
"We saw some villages that were truly destroyed," said Sadati, who visited the affected area to document the aftermath.
"One good thing was that the earthquake happened during the day, so many people were not in their homes. If it had happened at night the casualties would have been far worse."
Seventy-one ambulances and 40 units trained to find survivors had been deployed to the affected areas along with more than 5,000 tents, Mr Derakhshan said.
About 16,000 people in the quake-hit area have been given emergency shelter, Red Crescent official Mahmoud Mozafar told Mehr news agency.
Iran is situated on major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that reduced the historic south-eastern city of Bam to dust and killed about 31,000 people.