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Twin earthquakes kill over 300, injuring more than 3000, clean-up underway


Iranian women and a child stand outside their damaged house in the village of Chah Ghanbar after an earthquake struck southeastern Iran in December 2010.



Iran was struck by two major earthquakes Saturday, which have claimed at least 300 lives and injured at least 3000 others.

The quakes struck northwestern Iran near the city of Tabriz within minutes of each other, which the US Geological Survey ranked at 6.6 and 6.3 on the Richter scale.

Other news agencies have reported slightly smaller or larger Richter readings.

The quakes affected Tabriz and nearby cities, completely destroying about 20 villages, said BBC, and heavily damaging another 130 others, reported CBS News.

The epicenter of the quake was about 200 miles northeast of the capital Tehran in a mountain regions that contains a fault line.

Casualties are expected to rise as clean-up efforts get under way.

Local officials said the dead have so far only been rural villagers.

"Up to now, there are no deaths reported in the cities and all the victims come from rural areas," said Khalid Saie, the head of the regional natural disasters center, reported Al Jazeera.

A local provincial official told residents to stay outdoors during the night in case of aftershocks, Reuters reported according to the  the semi-official Islamic Students News Agency.

ISNA said there had been at least 36 aftershocks in the days after the quakes.

Authorities have sent rescue teams to the most affected villages, including Tabriz, Ahar, Khormaloo and Harif, CNN reported.  

Iran straddles several of the region's major fault lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes, Al Jazeera reported. 

In December 2003, the country experienced its most deadly quake: a 6.6-magnitude quake in the southern city of Bam which killed 31,000 people, almost a quarter of the population, according to Al Jazeera

By Monday morning, officials told BBC that search and rescue efforts have ended and the clean-up has begun.

Iran's Red Crescent said that it is housing many of the 16,000 people left homeless by the quake in a nearby sports stadium and has provided over 6000 tents.