Middle East

Iran's Tabriz city in shock after twin quakes

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Media captionMohsen Asgari in Tabriz: ''The whole city is awake''

Close to the epicentre of twin earthquakes that killed more than 300 people in Iran, survivors are huddled in the open air and the community is in shock, writes the BBC's Mohsen Asgari.

Even if you do not know the way, convoys of trucks full of donated relief supplies from all over Iran tell you where to go.

It is 01:15 and I have just arrived in Tabriz, which is the closest big city to the hundreds of small villages hit by recent twin earthquakes.

The whole city is awake - shops, restaurants and cafes are all open, but no-one is smiling.

Before we arrived, another 5.3-magnitude earthquake jolted the area and the people are in shock.

Hundreds of families are staying out in tents that they themselves have set up, mostly in parks and alongside streets.

Everywhere you can see small groups of people gathering together to talk about their experiences.

Villages cut off

It seems no-one wants to go to sleep.

The happiest groups of people are the children who play cheerfully late at night while their parents and families talk sadly about the disaster.

I spent some time among them. Most have stories about what they have lost - a friend, relatives or even their homes and cars.

There is no sign of chaos here and people are very helpful, even to us, their uninvited guests.

Image caption Varzaqan, near Tabriz, was one of the epicentres of Saturday's quakes

Search and rescue operations have been scaled back as most residents of the quake-stricken area have been accounted for.

However, there are groups of people who believe some remote areas have yet to be reached.

"I know the area like the back of my hand. There are some villages that no-one can reach there except residents," says Alireza, 34.

"I am sure they cannot find those villages in remote areas. They should not have called off their operations."

Although Iranian officials say search and rescue operations have ended, certain groups from the Red Crescent and Islamic Republican Guard are still out with dog teams and helicopters scouring the area for survivors.

It is cold at night. I can imagine how homeless people might feel if they are not under suitable shelter.

Heidar, a rescue worker wearing Iran's Red Crescent uniform, sits exhausted in the lobby of hotel but tells me: "All of them have blankets and they are under tents."

The Red Crescent has taken over a sports stadium that now shelters more than 16,000 people who are homeless or too afraid to return to their homes.

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