A large earthquake, said to have been the most powerful to hit Iran in the past 50 years and which sent tremors across the region, has killed dozens of people and flattened homes. Yet Iranian officials have insisted the damage is much less than originally feared.
The 7.8 magnitude quake struck at 15:14 local time (10:44 GMT) close to the Iranian border with Pakistan. The force of the tremor could be felt from Kabul to Delhi and Dubai. In the Pakistani city of Karachi many buildings were evacuated.
Iran’s Press TV initially said at least 40 people had been killed but it later withdrew the claim, suggesting casualties were much lower. Meanwhile in Baluchistan province in south-west Pakistan it was reported that up to 34 people had lost their lives. The Pakistani authorities said emergency teams were flying to remote villages in the quake zone with assistance.
Reuters reported that despite initial fears, it appeared that Iran had escaped relatively unscathed. Hatam Narouyi, governor of Sistan and Iran’s Baluchistan province, told the ISNA agency: “Fortunately, the earthquake resulted in no fatalities.”
Experts said if this was true, among the reasons for the relatively light toll could be the depth of the tremor. The US Geological Survey said the quake hit at a depth of around 51 miles. It said the epicentre was 123 miles south-east of the city of Zahedan and northwest of Turbat in Pakistan.
“It might be the depth, it might be nature of the seismic waves. It might be that there are a lot of smaller villages that have not yet been reached,” said Dr Steven Godby, an earthquakes expert at Nottingham Trent University. “I don’t think we will know for another 24 hours.”
People in the Iranian city of Zahedan reportedly poured into the streets when it struck. Iranian Red Crescent official Morteza Moradipour said emergency crews, including dog teams to sniff through the debris for any buried survivors, had reached the area.
Tuesday’s tremor was the second big quake to hit Iran in a week. On April 9, a powerful 6.3 magnitude quake struck on the Gulf coast close to Iran’s only nuclear power station, killing 37 people and injuring 850.
Iran sits on major geological faultlines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes. The deadliest was the 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that flattened the city of Bam, in Iran's far southeast. More than 25,000 people were killed.
Tuesday’s quake was felt over a vast area of west and south Asia. Pakistani news channels showed buildings shaking in the southern city of Karachi, where people in panic came out from offices and homes. There were similar scenes in Delhi.