At least 500 people were killed and around 900 injured in the magnitude 6.4 earthquake that struck the south-eastern province of Kerman.

Iranian authorities are hopeful of reaching a few inaccessible mountain villages soon.

Many people affected by the quake, which struck early on Tuesday morning, spent the night sleeping outdoors or in temporary shelters, fearing aftershocks or because their homes were destroyed.

“There’s been no help at all,” said Kerman resident Mehdi Assadi, speaking to Reuters.

“I myself pulled six people out of the rubble, four of whom are dead.”

A crowd of angry villagers on a high mountain road besieged a convoy of vehicles, one carrying Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari, during a tour of affected areas.

“We spent the night in the cold. Where is the aid you’re talking about on television?” shouted one middle-aged man as the villagers banged on the windows and roofs of the vehicles, reported Reuters.

Police dispersed the crowd, however aid workers have acknowledged the relief effort is slow and patchy.

“The aid which has been distributed is tents. We’re trying to establish some camps here. We haven’t distributed food or blankets yet,” said Red Crescent medic Farhad Fathizadeh.

“We’re sorry we haven’t been able to help people much but we’re trying to prepare ourselves for tonight,” he said.

On Wednesday, Iranian authorities seemed willing to review their initial rejection of air offers from abroad.

“We are not calling for aid, but we will accept it as we did before”, President Mohammad Khatami said, referring to the aftermath of the earthquake that struck the town of Bam in 2003, killing 30,000 people.

The disaster prompted an international relief effort involving even the US, which is generally hostile to Iran.

The head of natural disaster services, Mohammad Javad Fadaie, told the AFP news agency there was no “fundamental problem” with the humanitarian and rescue work but conceded there was a lack of tents.

Authorities said they expect the death toll to rise to over 500 once the more remote areas have been reached.

Whole villages were flattened by the force of the quake.

Iran sits astride several major faults in the earth’s crust, and is prone to violent earthquakes which killed some 170,000 people in about 20 quakes during the 20th century.

In December 2003, more than 30,000 people were killed when a quake measuring 6.7 practically razed the city of Bam.

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