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Quake hits Iran, Pakistan; Death toll in question

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 11:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Shakil Adil)
People evacuate buildings and gather on road after a tremor of an earthquake was felt in Karachi, Pakistan, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. A major earthquake described as the strongest to hit Iran in more than half a century flatted homes and offices Tuesday near Iran's border with Pakistan, killing at least tens of people in the sparsely populated region and swaying buildings as far away as New Delhi and the skyscrapers in Dubai and Bahrain. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A major earthquake flattened homes and offices on both sides of the Iran-Pakistan border Tuesday, rattling buildings as far away as New Delhi and Dubai. Iranian state media said at least 46 people died, but later Iranian reports offered a far milder picture.

The discrepancies and apparent backtracking in the Iranian reports could not be immediately reconciled, but Iran has faced two large quakes in less than week and authorities could seek to downplay casualties.

Iran's state-run Press TV initially said at least 40 people were killed on the Iranian side, but later removed the figure from its website and news scroll. Other state-controlled outlets, including the official IRNA news agency, mentioned no deaths and only injuries, quoting a local official.

The website of Tehran Geophysics Center said the quake, measured at least magnitude 7.7, lasted 40 seconds and called it the strongest in more than 50 years in one of the world's most seismically active areas. Press TV called it "massive."

It also was the second deadly quake to hit Iran in less than a week after a magnitude 6.1 temblor struck near Bushehr, on Iran's Persian Gulf coast, killing at least 37 people and raising calls for greater international safety inspectors at Iran's lone nuclear reactor nearby.

Press TV said the quake was centered near Saravan, about 50 kilometers (26 miles) from the Pakistani border. The U.S. Geological Survey put the preliminary magnitude at 7.8 and at a depth of 15.2 kilometers (nine miles).

Press TV said least 40 people were killed, but gave no other immediate details on the extent of damage or casualties. Later, the reference to the death toll was dropped from Press TV's website and the news agency IRNA said only that at least 27 people were injured.

State-run Pakistan Television, meanwhile, said at least six people were killed on its side of the border and at least 47 others were injured. Up to 1,000 mud homes were damaged, it added.

A Pakistani police officer, Azmatullah Regi, said nearly three dozen homes and shops collapsed in one village in the Mashkel area, which was the hardest hit by the quake. Rescue workers pulled the bodies of a couple and their three children, aged 5 to 15, from the rubble of one house, he said.

The Pakistani army ordered paramilitary troops to assist with rescue operations and provide medical treatment. Additional troops are being moved to the area, and army helicopters were mobilized to carry medical staff, tents, medicine and other relief items.

In Iran, the Red Crescent said it was facing a "complicated emergency situation" in the area with villages scattered over desolate hills and valleys.

The quake was felt over a vast area from New Delhi — about 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) from the epicenter — to Gulf cities that have some of the world's tallest skyscrapers, including the record 828-meter (2,717 -foot) Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Officials ordered temporary evacuations from the Burj Khalifa and some other high-rises as a precaution.

A resident in the quake zone in Iran, Manouchehr Karimi, told The Associated Press by phone that "the quake period was long" and occurred "when many people were at home to take a midday nap."

Pakistani news channels showed buildings shaking in the southern city of Karachi, where people in panic came out from offices and homes.

In a message posted on Twitter, British Foreign Secretary William Hague sent condolences to families of those lost in the Iran earthquake.

In 2003, some 26,000 people were killed by a magnitude 6.6 quake that flattened the historic southeastern Iranian city of Bam.

___

Associated Press writer Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Pakistan, contributed to this story.

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