Two strong earthquakes struck the north-western Iranian province of East Azerbaijan on Saturday, killing at least 220 people and injuring more than 2,000, local disaster response chief Khalil Saei told the official IRNA news agency.

The quakes struck within 11 minutes of each another, registering magnitudes of 6.3 and 6.4, according to the US Geological Survey. The towns of Ahar and Varzaqan were the worst hit, officials said.

The quake hit the towns of Ahar, Haris and Varzaqan in East Azerbaijan province at 4.53 p.m. local time (GMT 12.23), the TV report said. At least six villages were totally levelled, and 60 others sustained damage ranging from 50 to 80 percent, it said. It was unclear how many people live in the villages.

The epicentre of the quake was a region between Ahar and Haris, about 500 kilometres northwest of the capital, Tehran, according to Khalil Saei, the report said.

At least nine aftershocks jolted the same area and were felt in a wide region near the Caspian Sea, causing panic among the population.

Saei, local Crisis Committee chief, urged people in the quake region to stay outdoors and spend the night at parks and open spaces in anticipation of more aftershocks. Some of the injured died were being transported to nearby cities, Khalil Saei said.

The governor warned people to sleep outdoors because of continuing aftershocks.

The Red Crescent said it would establish mobile hospitals.

Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. It experiences at least one earthquake every day on average, although the vast majority are so small they go unnoticed.