AFP journalists in the disaster zone, northeast of the city of Tabriz, saw rescuers working desperately in the rubble of shattered villages whose mud and concrete brick dwellings had collapsed in the strong temblors that struck yesterday.
The bodies, many of women and children, were grouped together in the open. Men nearby took turns to dig graves for them. Every now and then, the earth trembled again from one of more than 55 aftershocks that had continued through the night, jarring the nerves of survivors and exhausted emergency workers.
The quakes came within 11 minutes of each other, yesterday afternoon as many in the region were at home observing Ramadan fasting.
Tehran University's Seismological Centre put the first at a magnitude of 6.2 and -- 11 minutes later -- the second, a strong aftershock, at 6.0.
The US Geological Survey, which monitors seismic activity worldwide, ranked them as more powerful, at 6.4 and 6.3 on the moment magnitude scale, respectively.
The epicentre was 10 kilometres underground some 60 kilometres northeast of Tabriz, close to the towns of Ahar and Varzaqan.
While Tabriz, with its more solid buildings, escaped relatively unscathed, some 60 villages in the region were decimated, half a dozen of them completely flattened.
"The number of dead has reached 250 and the number of injured has topped 2,000 people," Khalil Saie, the head of the regional natural disasters centre, was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency. Earlier he had said that "all the deaths come from rural areas."