TEHRAN -- Iranian officials said Tuesday that the country is ready to receive help from abroad, a sign that authorities are struggling to deal with the aftermath of weekend earthquakes that killed 306 people and injured thousands.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi as saying Iran was open to help, a shift from earlier in the week, when the Iranian Red Crescent turned away a rescue team from Turkey that had arrived without advance coordination.
His words were echoed by parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, who said Tuesday that Iran "would welcome help by any country" while visiting areas hit by the earthquakes, the Associated Press reported.
Earlier in the week, Iranians fretted that aid wasn't keeping pace with the need. In the town of Ahar, near the epicenter of the twin quakes, the town's governor and disaster relief center chief, Reza Sedighi, said Sunday that the area was scraping for water, dried food and canned goods.
The United Nations estimates that 155,000 people have been affected by the quakes, including more than 50,000 who have been resettled in tents. Journalists coming back from the disaster zone Tuesday said the relief efforts are now better organized.
The U.S. State Department said Monday that it was ready to provide help. "There have been Iranian public statements in the last 24 hours saying that they did not see the need for foreign assistance," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. "Nonetheless, our offer stays on the table."
One local official told the Mehr news agency on Monday that earthquake damage could surpass $650 million and possibly increase further.
-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Iranians search the ruins of buildings Sunday after earthquakes in a village near the city of Varzaqan in northwestern Iran. Credit: Ali Hamed Haghdoust / Mehr