* Two quakes hit northwest Iran near city of Tabriz
* Quakes were 6.4 and 6.3 in magnitude
* Casualty toll may rise as rescuers reach more villages
* Some 16,000 people given emergency shelter
DUBAI, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Two powerful earthquakes killed
180 people and injured about 1,500 in northwest Iran where
rescuers frantically combed the rubble of dozens of villages
through the night into Sunday.
Thousands fled their homes in panic, and stayed overnight in
makeshift camps or in the streets after Saturday's quakes and
about 40 aftershocks hit the area.
Casualty figures are expected to rise, Iranian officials
said, as some of the injured were in a critical condition while
others were still trapped under the rubble in inaccessible
places and rescue efforts were hampered by the darkness.
Six villages were destroyed and about 60 sustained more than
50 percent damage, Iranian media reported.
Photographs posted on Iranian news websites showed numerous
bodies lying on the floor of a white-tiled morgue in the town of
Ahar, and medical staff, surrounded by anxious residents,
treating the injured in the open air as dusk fell.
Other images showed collapsed buildings and cars crushed by
Iran is situated on major fault lines and has suffered
several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6
magnitude quake in 2003 that reduced the southeastern historic
city of Bam into dust and killed more than 25,000 people.
The U.S. Geological Survey measured Saturday's first quake
at 6.4 magnitude and said it struck 60 km (37 miles) northeast
of the city of Tabriz at a depth of 9.9 km (6.2 miles). A second
quake measuring 6.3 struck 49 km (30 miles) northeast of Tabriz
11 minutes later at a similar depth.
Officials said 180 people had been killed and about 1,500
injured, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
The second quake struck near the town of Varzaghan. "The
quake was so intense that people poured into the streets through
fear," Fars said.
Hundreds of people were rescued from under the rubble of
collapsed buildings but the night-time severely disrupted
"Unfortunately there are still a number of people trapped in
the rubble but finding them is very difficult because of the
darkness," national emergency head Gholam Reza Masoumi was
quoted as saying by Fars.
The state news agency IRNA quoted Bahram Samadirad, a
provincial official from the coroner's office, as saying: "Since
some people are in a critical condition ... it is possible for
the number of casualties to rise."
The hospital in Varzaghan, staffed by just two doctors and
with a shortages of medical supplies and food, was struggling to
cope with about 500 injured, the Mehr news agency reported.
"I was just on the phone talking to my mother when she said,
'There's just been an earthquake', then the line was cut," one
woman from Tabriz, who lives outside Iran, wrote on Facebook.
"God, what has happened? After that I couldn't get through.
God has also given me a slap, and it was very hard."
The earthquakes struck in East Azerbaijan province, a
mountainous region that neighbours Azerbaijan and Armenia to the
north and is predominantly populated by ethnic Azeris - a
significant minority in Iran.
Its capital, Tabriz, is a major city and trading hub far
from Iran's oil-producing areas and known nuclear facilities.
Buildings in the city are substantially built, and the Iranian
Students' News Agency said nobody in the city had been killed or
Homes and business premises in Iranian villages, however,
are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble
and collapse in a strong quake.
Red Crescent official Mahmoud Mozafar was quoted by Mehr
news agency as saying about 16,000 people in the quake-hit area
had been given emergency shelter.
Iranian health minister Marzieh Vahid Dastejerdi said the
government had despatched 48 ambulances and 500 blood bags to
the worst affected areas, IRNA reported.
Fars quoted Iranian lawmaker Abbas Falahi as saying he
believed rescue workers had not yet been able to reach between
10 and 20 villages. Falahi said people in the region were in
need of bread, tents and drinking water.
A local provincial official warned of more aftershocks over
the next 48 hours and urged people in the area to stay outdoors.
The Turkish Red Crescent said it was sending a truck full of
emergency supplies to the border. Turkey's Foreign Ministry said
it had informed Iran it was ready to help.