A man stands on debris of the destroyed buildings after an earthquake in Ahar in northwest Iran, on August 13, 2012. Twin quakes shook Iran's northeastern region on Saturday, killing more than 300 people and injuring thousands of others. (Xinhua/Ahmad Halabisaz)
AHAR, Iran, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- Iran is stepping up relief efforts in the wake of the deadly twin earthquakes that jolted its northwestern region over the weekend.
Iranian Health Minster Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi told a press conference on Monday that the death toll from Saturday's earthquakes had risen to 306, with more than 3,000 people injured and over 300 villages damaged or destroyed.
The region has declared two days of mourning for the lives lost in the two temblors, respectively of magnitude 6.4 and 6.3. According to the semi-official Fars news agency, the exact number of displaced people was not known yet.
Iranian Red Crescent officials said they were providing relief and sanitary facilities for more than 16,000 people, and the government is also offering survivors with shelters and food.
Xinhua reporters who traveled to Ahar, a town close to the earthquake's epicenter, saw that large numbers of village houses, mostly made of clay, had been levelled, leaving piles of debris strewn with broken household appliances and damaged beams.
"I could barely move when the quakes came. I was hit by chunks of stone falling from above before I collapsed and lost consciousness. I was really terrified," local villager Sayyid Tallewei told Xinhua.
Another local resident named Islami said nine villagers from his village of 280 people died in the quake.
As Xinhua reporters were interviewing local residents, an aftershock stuck, sending screaming on-lookers scurrying for cover.
A Red Crescent worker told Xinhua that Ahar sustained less damage in the quake than rural areas and that the agency was distributing tents, food and water to people under the scorching sun.
In Ahar, residents were seen huddled in makeshift camps or sleeping in parks for fear of more aftershocks.
As the death toll rose, Iranian First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi said Monday that the Islamic republic was ready to receive international aid.
The president of the UN General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, expressed on Monday his deep sympathy for the loss of lives in the disaster.
"President Al-Nasser extends his condolences to the families and friends of those who have been killed in this disaster and wishes a speedy recovery to those who were injured," said a statement issued by the president's spokesperson.
Meanwhile, a number of countries, including Venezuela, Turkey, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, have also offered condolences and expressed willingness to help in the disaster relief.
Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency reported Monday that the first shipment of humanitarian supplies had been dispatched by Azerbaijan's Ministry of Emergency Situations to Iran's quake-ravaged areas.
The U.S. State Department said Monday that the humanitarian aid to Iran will be exempt from sanctions imposed by Washington on Tehran.
"Americans wishing to provide humanitarian assistance to Iranians during this time may donate food and medicine without obtaining an Iranian transactions regulations license," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at a regular news briefing.
TEHRAN, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Iranian First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi said Monday that the Islamic republic is ready to receive international aid for the quake-hit people of Iran's East Azerbaijan province, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Rahimi made the remarks in a press conference in Tabriz, the provincial capital of East Azerbaijan. Full story
TEHRAN, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Iran's Health Minster, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, said Monday that the death toll of Saturday's strong twin quakes in northwest Iran has risen to 306, and 3037 others have been injured, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Dastjerdi told Iran's Majlis (parliament) on Monday that all others who were buried under the damaged buildings were rescued, according to Fars. Full story