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Deadly earthquakes hit Iran

Two powerful earthquakes have hit Iran just minutes apart, killing at least 87 people and injuring hundreds. Rescue efforts have been hampered with downed telecommunications.

Two strong earthquakes struck the northwest of Iran on Saturday killing at least 87 people and injuring some 600 across dozens of villages, the head of the regional natural disasters center, Khalil Saie, told Iranian news agency ISNA.

Officials said panicked residents fled into the streets as the powerful 6.2-magnitude quake hit at 4.53 p.m. local time. An aftershock, measuring 6.3 on the scale was reported 11 minutes later according to measurements taken by the US Geological Survey.

The epicenter of the quake was 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Tabriz , close to the town of Ahar .

Tabriz , home to 1.5 million people, managed to escape relatively unscathed except for a few obvious cracks in buildings, said officials at Tehran University 's Seismological Center .

Six nearby villages had been completely destroyed in the quake, local officials said, with scores of others severely damaged.

Regional Govenor Ahmad Alireza Beigi told state media "nearby villages were a source of concern," as the earthquake broke telephone communications, making the rescue effort problematic.

A lack of communication forced rescue personnel to use radio and to send helicopters to some of the isolated villages to assess the extent of the tremor.

Governor Saei advised locals that due to the risk of possible aftershocks, people in the quake-hit areas should sleep outside on Saturday night.

The Red Crescent has mobilized to establish makeshift hospitals in affected areas to give emergency aid.

Iran straddles several major fault lines and has suffered several quakes in recent times, the last struck the city of Bam in 2003 when more than 25,000 lost their lives.

jlw/ng (Reuters, AP, dpa)