NEW: Iranian news agencies give different casualty figures
NEW: One aftershock measured 4.4 magnitude, according to the USGS
NEW: Historic sites were damaged
NEW: Pope Benedict XVI says his thoughts are with those affected
Rescue operations have ended in Iran after two strong earthquakes that killed at least 250 people, the semi-official Fars news agency reported Sunday.
Another 1,800 people were injured in the quakes that shook East Azarbaijan province in northwest Iran on Saturday, the report said, citing Deputy Interior Minister Hassan Qaddami.
State-run Press TV said more than 2,000 were injured, while the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said the death toll could be as high as 300.
Scores of villages were destroyed or damaged by the quakes.
Qaddami, speaking to Fars, said a total of 110 villages were damaged.
“All those under debris have been rescued and the quake-stricken people are now being provided with their basic needs,” said Qaddami.
Thousands of tents were set up throughout the stricken region, and tens of thousands of cans of food were distributed, Iranian officials said.
The quakes damaged historic monuments, including the roof of Shahabeddin Ahari’s tomb and the Qasem Khan Ahari house, among other sites, Press TV said.
Pope Benedict XVI said his thoughts were with those affected, as well as others facing natural disasters, IRNA reported. Other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, expressed condolences. The United Arab Emirates offered assistance, IRNA reported.
The quakes struck near Tabriz, the country’s fourth-largest city.
The cities of Ahar and Varzagan are the hardest hit, Khalil Saei, the provincial director of crisis management, told IRNA.
The first earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.4, hit Saturday at 4:53 p.m. local time, 37 miles northeast of Tabriz, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which measured 11 aftershocks. Just 11 minutes later, a second quake, measuring 6.3, struck 30 miles northeast of Tabriz.
A series of aftershocks followed, including one measuring 4.4 magnitude, according to the USGS. There were no immediate reports of further damage or casualties.
Authorities asked residents to spend the night outdoors as a safety precaution.
Iran sits on major fault lines – the collision of the Arabia and Eurasia plates – and has been prone to devastating earthquakes.
Nine years ago, 30,000 people died in an earthquake in Bam in southeastern Kerman province. In 1990, about 50,000 were killed in a quake near the Caspian Sea.