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Iran raises quake death toll as relief efforts continue

Iran's health minister says the death toll from two quakes that devastated villages in the northwest has risen sharply. Officials say they are focusing on relief efforts after concluding search and rescue operations.

Health Minister Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi said on Monday that the twin earthquakes had killed a total of 306 people and injured more than 3,000 - a big jump compared to the last official toll given on Sunday of 227 dead and 1,380 injured.

Watch video 01:13

Iran struggles after twin earthquakes

Vahid-Dastjerdi said more victims had died of their injuries, and that of the 306 deaths, hospital morgues had counted 219 women and children, and 49 men.

The discrepancy with the total likely results from the fact that some who died were buried by their families before officials arrived.

The minister said about 160,000 people were thought to have lost their homes.

'No survivors to be found'

Iranhas meanwhile turned its attentions from rescue efforts to relief activities after the two devastating earthquakes

"Search and rescue operations have ended and we are now working to ensure survivors' needs in terms of shelter and food," Interior Minister Moustafa Mohammad-Najjar told state television.

About half of the 600 villages in the disaster zone northeast of Tabriz were damaged by the quakes, the minister said. A dozen or so were completely leveled.

No survivors were believed to be left beneath the rubble, Mohammad-Najjar said.

Reconstruction program

There were reports that hospitals near to the affected area in the northwestern part of the country were struggling to treat the injured.

The interior minister said that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered that a reconstruction program begin immediately, in anticipation of the region's harsh winters.

The program is to be funded by a special budget announced by Ahmadinejad.

While Tabriz and other larger towns escaped with only minor damage, many outlying villages were devastated.

The first earthquake registered 6.4 on the magnitude scale, according to the US Geological Survey, with the second only slightly lower at 6.3. Many smaller aftershocks followed, with people in the worst affected areas warned to stay outdoors to avoid the danger of further building collapse.

tj,rc/mz (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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