Two strong earthquakes have shaken Iran's northwest, leaving at least 306 people dead and more than 3,000 injured. Some local media sources report that the numbers are expected to rise, as emergency services continue to work in the disaster area.
Iran has raised the death toll from Saturday's twin earthquakes from 227 to 306. Three thousand and thrity-seven people have been injured, Heath Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi told a session of parliament on Monday.
Earlier the National Emergency head Gholam Reza Masoumi said about 5,000 people are believed to be injured, according to the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA).
The quakes, measuring 6.4 and 6.3 on the Richter scale, struck within 11 minutes of each other near the towns of Tabriz and Ahar in East Azerbaijan province on Saturday.
About half of the villages located in the disaster zone have been damaged and some have been destroyed completely, Interior Minister Moustafa Mohammad-Najjar told local television. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that 50 villages in the Varzaqan area have been completely destoyed.
Iran's main news channel said the first tremor hit the towns of Ahar, Haris and Varzaqan in East Azerbaijan province at 4:53pm local time (12:23 GMT ).
The search for surviving victims in the area is over, with national services and aid organizations switching their focus on relief effort.
"There are no people left to recover from under the rubble in any village, and all necessary aid is currently being distributed," an interior ministry official in charge of disaster management, Hossein Ghadami, told state television.
Spokesman of the Relief and Rescue Organization of the Iranian Red Crescent Society Hossein Derakhshan said 5,626 tents have been set up for the people whose houses have been destroyed by the quake.
About 900 of the people injured by the disaster have been rushed to hospitals in the first hours of the rescue operation.
A spokesman for Tabriz's fire department told the ISNA news agency that "most parts of Tabriz have no electricity… and there is a heavy traffic jam in the city."
Hundreds of people were rescued from under the collapsed buildings, but emergency efforts have been hampered by nightfall.
The affected area has been shaken by 35 aftershocks in the hours after the quakes struck, according to FARS. Officials have asked people to stay outdoors overnight.
The tremors were felt in neighboring Azerbaijan, according to the local Seismology Institute, but no casualties have been reported.
Iran is generally susceptible to earthquakes, being situated on seismic fault lines. Tremors hit the country every day, but the majority of them are so insignificant that they go unnoticed.
The deadliest was a 6.6-magnitude quake which struck the southern city of Bam in December 2003, killing 31,000 people – about a quarter of the population – and destroying the city's ancient mud-built citadel.