Iran sits astride several major fault lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes, some of which have been devastating.—Reuters (File Photo)

TEHRAN: Up to 50 people were killed and 400 injured as two strong earthquakes jolted northwest Iran on Saturday, the head of the country’s emergency services told ISNA news agency.

“According to the latest reports, about 40 to 50 people have been killed in the quakes today ... About 400 have also been injured and were transported to Tabriz and Ardebil,” Gholamreza Masoumi said, quoted by ISNA.

Masoumi was referring to the biggest cities in the region and a neighbouring province.

Both strong earthquakes hit in quick succession, sending panicked residents fleeing from their homes, other officials said.

The temblors, which struck near Tabriz, home to 1.5 million people, measured 6.2 and 6.0 on the moment magnitude scale, according to Tehran University’s Seismological Centre.

The US Geological Survey, which monitors quakes worldwide, ranked them as more powerful than that, at 6.4 and 6.3, respectively.

Tabriz itself escaped unscathed apart from observed cracks in buildings.

But nearby villages were “a source of concern,” regional governor Ahmad Alireza Beigi told state television, adding he was unable as yet to give an overall injury toll.

“Sixty villages... have been heavily damaged and are in need of help,” one lawmaker in the hard-hit town of Ahar, Abbas Fallah, told the Mehr news agency.

Tehran University’s Seismological Centre said the first earthquake hit at 4:53 pm (1223 GMT) with an epicentre just 60 kilometres from Tabriz, close to the town of Ahar, and a depth of 10 kilometres.

The second – a big aftershock – rumbled through just 11 minutes later from nearly the same spot. A series of 11 smaller aftershocks, rating 4.7 or below, rapidly followed.

Iran sits astride several major fault lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes, some of which have been devastating.

The deadliest was a 6.6-magnitude quake which struck the southern city of Bam in December 2003, killing 31,000 people – about a quarter of the population – and destroying the city’s ancient mud-built citadel.

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