Tehran (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Hospitals in the north-western region of Iran are packed with wounded after the two earthquakes that killed at least 300 people and destroyed hundreds of villages.
After the earthquake two days ago - and some aftershocks yesterday - thousands of people slept in shelters or parks, exposed to the night cold of the mountainous region.
Doctors and local people are working round the clock to treat the wounded and bring food and water to the sick. The authorities say they have completed search operations for missing persons, but reportedly there are still many missing.
The two shocks struck the region around Tabriz at 17:23 and 17:34 on 11 August with a magnitude 6.4 and 6.3. Most of the damage and casualties are reported around the city of Ahar, Varzaghan and Harees. Many villages, built of stones, bricks and mud have been destroyed. The ISNA (Iranian Students' News Agency) states that at least a thousand villages have been affected. Of these, 20 were completely razed to the ground, another 130 are up to 70% damaged.
Most of the victims are women and children. It being Ramadan, the women were at home preparing the evening iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast.
There are conflicting figures on the number of victims. The interior minister, Mohammad-Najjar, said that 227 people died and 1380 ere injured, but other officials say the death toll is of at least 300 and more than 5 thousand injured.
The month of Ramadan has also slowed aid. Because of the fast, many offices are closed and only open in the evening. The first responders arrived seven hours after the first quake. Hospitals and clinics have been slow to respond, waiting until nightfall to collecting blood donations and organize the emergency services. Several witnesses say that there is scarcity of drinking water, food, tents, blankets and medical staff in the affected area. But official figures report that there are 100 ambulances, over 1000 employees of the Red Crescent and 44 thousand packages of food and 5600 tents were distributed.
Iran is prone to earthquakes. In 2003 an earthquake of magnitude 6.6 transformed the area of Bam into dust, killing at least 31 thousand people. The area affected in recent days, East Azerbaijan, was last struck by an earthquake in 1770. The Institute for the study of earthquakes, in Tehran, had predicted a tremor in the area this year.
Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI appealed for prayers and solidarity with Iran. The United States, Russia, Turkey and other nations have offered their help, but Iran has made no request for international aid.