TEHRAN, 29 May 2004 (IRIN) - Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS) rescue teams worked throughout the night following a violent earthquake which shook northern Iran on Friday, measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale.
About 30 people were reported to have been killed, although news of the dead and injured was still trickling in - many mountain roads to villages were blocked, hampering work by rescue teams.
The worst affected areas were two northern provinces, Mazandaran and Qazvin. Some villages to the west of the capital, Tehran, were also affected.
In the Caspian province of Mazandaran, 21 people were killed, 200 injured and at least nine villages sustained serious damage, Said Mehran Noorbaksh, public relations head of the IRCS told IRIN in Tehran. He said that the villages were 20 - 100 percent destroyed.
In Mazandaran, the IRCS has despatched 10 search and rescue teams, three mountain rescue teams and five highway relief and rescue teams. Each team consists of 30 volunteers. 16 ambulances have also been sent to the region.
In Qazvin three people were killed and 40 injured. 12 villages sustained damage of between 20-80 percent and another 41 villages were 20 - 80 percent destroyed. 20 rescue vehicles have been despatched and 30 rescue teams were sent, although the rescue phase in Qazvin is now over and the IRCS is concentrating its efforts on sheltering the homeless and clearing rubble.
1,000 tents have been sent and so far 250 have been set up. Noorbaksh said that 15 ambulances were sent to the area and 10 mt of food and water.
Reports on the number of people killed on the trecherous Chalus Road, which connects Tehran to the Caspian coast, are mixed. The IRCS said that 11 people were killed and dozens injured when their cars were crushed by falling rocks and boulders but they are waiting to confirm figures. Hundreds of Iranians were returning home after weekend trips away.
According to the IRCS, 11 people were killed and 20 injured in villages west of the capital. Three rescue teams have been sent, including 200 tents.
"We couldn't send helicopters last night as it was too dark, but today we sent two helicopters to the area. We've also sent eight teams of sniffer dogs and 20 mt of dates have been sent to all affected areas," Noorbaksh told IRIN.
Army unites have been on alert to help with rescue operations.
Dozens of aftershocks have been recorded and the earthquake, which happened at about five o'clock in the afternoon, was felt as far away as Isfahan in central Iran. In Tehran several windows shattered and paniced residents ran into the streets.
"The whole house shook and I tried to run outside," an elderly resident of central Tehran told IRIN. "The windows next door shattered and I was terrified. It lasted at least ten seconds," she added.
Mazandaran is a lush, green province stretching to the Caspain Sea, with hundreds of mountain villages dotted among its forests. Villages rely on farming and rice paddies and tea plantations are major industries.
Qazvin is home to the historical Valley of the Assassins and Alamut castle in the southern foothills of the Alborz mountains.
The earthquake comes only five months after a deadly quake in the southwestern town of Bam when over 20,000 people were killed and the city was razed to the ground. Iran lies on several fault lines - the two provinces at the centre of Friday's quake are also on seismological earthquake hotspots.
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