Hundreds killed as earthquake rocks northern Iran

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The Independent Online

A powerful earthquake in north-western Iran has killed at least 500 people and injured a further 2,000, overwhelming local hospitals and emergency services.

A powerful earthquake in north-western Iran has killed at least 500 people and injured a further 2,000, overwhelming local hospitals and emergency services.

The earthquake, which measured 6.3 on the Richter scale, is believed to have levelled or severely damaged at least 60 villages in a mountainous rural region about 140 miles west of Tehran.

Helicopters and rescue teams were drafted in to search for survivors buried under the area's mud-brick homes and buildings, and began ferrying the dead and wounded to local hospitals.

But doctors in Qazvin, the capital of the province most seriously affected, said their facilities were quickly swamped by the dead and wounded.

A local official said 206 dead had been taken to one hospital in the city and 170 to another, forcing doctors to discharge all non-critical patients to clear the wards.

The hospital in Avaj, one of the area's largest towns, was also overwhelmed. "We have 100 beds in the hospital, but they keep bringing more people every minute, but we can't handle any more," one hospital official said.

The President, Mohammad Khatami, released a message of condolence and ordered the Interior Ministry to oversee the rescue operation.

The disaster struck at about 7.30am local time (2am BST), leaving the town at its epicentre, Bou'in-Zahra, devastated. The shocks were felt in Tehran and eight provinces, with further damage inflicted by two strong aftershocks half an hour later.

Iran lies on a major seismic line and is prone to quakes. The country's last major earthquake, in May 1997, killed 1,560 people, and moderate tremors are reported almost daily. But seismologists yesterday said the single-story mud brick homes in rural Iran were particularly vulnerable.

"Usually with this kind of building we lose a lot of people," said Professor Fariborz Nateghi, a government adviser. "You lose the walls and the ceiling collapses ... They are major killers."

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