Rescue teams in northwestern Iran are searching for survivors in the rubble of two strong earthquakes and several aftershocks that have killed 227 people and injured more than 1,300.
Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar told journalists that search-and-rescue operations have ended and efforts have now shifted to providing food and shelter to survivors. He said more than half of the 600 villages in the affected area had been damaged. Some 16,000 people reportedly need emergency shelter.
Najjar praised the work of rescue crews. "The reality is that they have responded really well with their resources to this sudden disaster. They worked exceptionally well, they worked really hard. I personally thank them, as the representative of the president in this time of crisis. I thank the people," he said.
RFE/RL's Radio Farda spoke by telephone to a resident of the town of Ahar.
"Relief efforts are good and the distribution of food is better when compared with distribution of tents and blankets and other materials that people need right now," the resident said.
"Difficulties on the Ahar-Tabriz road and other roads to other cities delayed rescuers and relief supplies. People are sleeping on blankets laid out on the ground in parks and they have tents outside cities."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle wrote immediately to his Iranian counterpart to offer Germany's condolences and assistance in coping with the earthquakes. Russian President Vladimir Putin also telegrammed Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and offered Russian assistance.
The quakes, measured at magnitude 6.4 and 6.3 by the U.S. Geological Service, struck near the city of Tabriz.
The towns of Haris and Varzaqan were among those that suffered casualties, but most of the casualties are thought to be in villages.
Telephone and communications lines to many villages were reportedly badly damaged, making rescue efforts harder. Reports said phone communication in Tabriz had also been disrupted.
Officials urged people in the region to stay outdoors overnight in anticipation of more aftershocks.
(Iran's Earthquake In Pictures)
In a statement, President Ahmadinejad called on authorities to "mobilize all efforts to help the affected populations."
AFP news agency quoted an emergency services official as saying dozens of rescue teams were at work, using dog squads to detect buried survivors, but the onset of darkness has hampered relief efforts.
The Red Crescent said it would establish mobile hospitals in the affected areas to give emergency aid to the injured.
Iran is located on several major fault lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes, some of which have been devastating.
In 2003, an earthquake in the southeastern city of Bam left 25,000 people dead.
Across the border in Armenia the temblors shook buildings in the capital Yerevan and sent people fleeing out of their homes into the streets but officials there report there was no major damage.
Azerbaijan also report feeling the earthquake but did not report any serious damage or casualties.
With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and ITAR-TASS