Search for quake survivors ends

Rescuers have ended the search for survivors of twin earthquakes in north-western Iran that killed at least 250 people and injured more than 2,600 a day earlier, state television reported.

At least 20 villages were totally levelled, state TV said.

Ahmad Reza Shajiei, a senior government official in charge of rescue operations, said more than 5,000 tents have been set up to shelter more than 16,000 homeless. Thousands spent the night outdoors after their villages were levelled and homes damaged in the powerful quakes, which were followed by some 36 aftershocks.

Television video showed people being evacuated on stretchers, while others were treated for broken limbs and concussions. Dozens of families were sleeping on blankets laid out on the ground in parks. Some were crying, and others shivered from the cold in the mountainous region hit by the quake, near the border with Azerbaijan.

More than 1,100 rescuers worked through the night to pull out those trapped under rubble and to reach some of the more remote villages affected. Some 15 dogs were brought in to search for survivors.

By Sunday afternoon, state television reported that search operations had ceased. The government's attention shifted to providing shelter to the homeless and removing debris from the buildings destroyed.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) reported that Saturday's first quake was magnitude 6.4 and struck 35 miles north-east of the city of Tabriz at a depth of 6.2 miles. State TV quoted local Crisis Committee chief Khalil Saei as saying the epicentre was a region between the towns of Ahar and Haris, about 350 miles north-west of the capital Tehran.

The second quake was a magnitude 6.3 and struck 11 minutes later, the USGS reported. Its epicentre was 30 miles north-east of Tabriz at a depth of 6.1 miles.

The quakes hit the towns of Ahar, Haris and Varzaqan in East Azerbaijan province, state television reported. In addition to 20 villages destroyed, more than 130 others sustained heavy damage, state TV said.

The aftershocks were felt in a wide region near the Caspian Sea, causing panic among the people. Officials have announced two days of mourning in East Azerbaijan province.