The U.S. Geological Survey reported the first earthquake on Saturday, August 11th was a magnitude 6.4 and struck 60 kilometers northeast of the city of Tabriz at a depth of 9.9 kilometers. The second quake, magnitude 6.3, struck 11 minutes later. Its epicenter was 50 kilometers northeast of Tabriz at a depth of 9.8 kilometers.
The first earthquake occurred at 16:53 local time, and the second occurred at 17:05, reported Mehdi Zare from the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology (IIEES). He also reported the earthquakes occurred on the South Ahar Fault. The previous earthquake in this region occurred in 1780. As reported by Iranian television, at least twenty villages were totally destroyed in the twin earthquakes that were followed by more than 200 aftershocks with magnitudes greater than 1.0, and forty aftershocks with a magnitude greater than 3.0. Hassan Emami Razavi, Deputy Minister of Health, said 80% of the villages struck by the earthquake were damaged. Ahmad Reza Shajiei, a senior government official in charge of rescue operations, said more than 5,000 tents were set up to shelter the thousands of displaced people who spent the night outdoors.
A day after rescuers called off the search for survivors, State TV reported the death toll from Saturday’s twin earthquakes had risen to 306. The Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported more than 5000 injured in the affected area. State TV also reported 44,000 food packages and thousands of blankets have been distributed in the stricken area. A Mehr News Agency reporter mentioned that roads in the area have been damaged, making the rescue process difficult. The Deputy Minister of Health also reported people do not have access to clean water because of broken water systems. However, to date, there have been no reports of break-outs of infectious diseases.
Bahram Akasheh, an Iranian geophysicist, seismologist and Professor of Geophysics at the University of Tehran, said these earthquakes are only 0.2 magnitude smaller than the Bam earthquake which resulted in more than 30,000 casualties. A main reason is the timing, as the Bam earthquake occurred in the morning while most everyone was asleep in their homes. These earthquakes, however, struck in the afternoon when fewer people are at home, and those that were found it easier to evacuate. He also mentioned that most buildings in this region are constructed of wood and mud, making them vulnerable to earthquakes.
Authorities say old, heavy roofs without frames were largely responsible for the high death toll in the rural areas. Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said the government will allocate funds to rebuild the houses destroyed in the quake, aiming to complete the construction before the arrival of cold winter temperatures. Najjar said the plans aim to construct buildings resistant to earthquakes.
View EERI's Learning from Earthquakes Archive for reports on past earthquakes in Iran and elsewhere.