Dubai - Overcrowded
hospitals in northwest Iran struggled to cope with thousands of
earthquake victims on Sunday as rescuers raced to reach remote villages
after two powerful quakes killed nearly 300 people.
Thousands huddled in makeshift camps or slept in the street after
Saturday's quakes for fear of more aftershocks, 60 of which had already
struck. A lack of tents and other supplies left them exposed to the
night chill, one witness told Reuters.
"I saw some people whose entire home was destroyed, and all their
livestock killed," Tahir Sadati, a local photographer, said by
telephone. "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 around the towns of Ahar, Varzaghan and Harees, near the
major city of Tabriz, Iranian media reported.
Tabriz resident Ahmad, 41, told Reuters his cousin living in a village near Ahar was killed and his body found.
"Nobody knows what happened to his wife and two daughters," aged 4
and 7, Ahmad said. "We fear that if rescuers don't get to them soon,
they will lose their lives too if they're still alive."
But Iranian officials said rescue operations had ended by Sunday
afternoon and that all those trapped beneath the rubble had been freed,
Iran's English-language Press TV 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, residents and Iranian media said, and there were
long queues of survivors waiting to be treated.
"I wanted to go there last night to help but heard there was bad
traffic and that it wasn't safe enough," Ahmad said. "People in those
villages need help."
Abbas Falahi, member of parliament for Ahar and Harees, said
people in some villages were still "in dire need of food and drinking
water", the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
"Despite the promises of officials, little first aide has been
distributed in the region and most people are left without tents. If the
situation continues, the toll will rise," he said.
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
in the town. There were traffic jams on the narrow road to Tabriz as
victims tried to reach hospitals, he said by telephone.