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10 killed as quake razes seven villages in Iran

Temblor hit low-populated area in south

TEHRAN -- An earthquake with a magnitude of at least 5.9 shook a sparsely populated area of southern Iran yesterday, flattening seven villages, killing 10 people, and injuring 70, officials and state-run television said. The temblor was felt as far away as Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Heidar Alishvandi, the governor of Qeshm, was quoted by state television as saying rescue teams were deployed to the affected area, and people in the wrecked villages moved quickly to safety.

Another provincial official, Ghasem Karami, said a high number of casualties was not expected because the area was not heavily developed.

Tehran's seismologic center said the quake was of magnitude 5.9, but the US Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., said it had a magnitude of 6.1. A magnitude-6.0 quake can cause severe damage.

Iran's seismologic center said the epicenter was in the waters of the Persian Gulf between the port city of Bandar Abbas and Qeshm Island, about 940 miles south of Tehran. The quake was 35 miles southwest of Bandar Abbas, which has about 500,000 residents, according to the US Geological Survey.

Masoud Dalman, head of Hormozgan Province's emergency affairs, said several buildings on Qeshm Island were damaged. The island has about 200,000 residents.

State-run television reported that Qeshm Island's airport sustained minor damage and that part of a major hospital collapsed from the force of the quake. No other details were provided.

Shahram Alamdari, head of Iranian Red Crescent's rescue unit, said two helicopters were evacuating the injured from Qeshm to Bandar Abbas.

Iranian television ran video from Qeshm showing minor damages to some buildings and a few injured people being taken to hospitals. The report said the villages of Karavan and Kousheh were worst hit, but no footage was shown from those sites.

The quake cut telephone links between Qeshm Island and the mainland, the report said.

In Oman and the United Arab Emirates, buildings were evacuated, and people fled into the streets. ''Power and water supplies were not affected," said Alireza Khorshidzadeh, a local journalist. ''People poured into the streets, fearing aftershocks."

In Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the UAE, several buildings in the skyscraper-lined central business district were evacuated. They included the twin Emirates Towers, the highest buildings on the main street, where many international corporations and Dubai government institutions have offices.

''It lasted around 30 seconds or so -- you could feel the building moving and the coffee cups shaking," said Bina Mathews, a public relations executive.

Iran is located on a number of seismic fault lines and, on average, experiences at least one slight quake every day.

The last major quake to hit southern Iran was in February, when a magnitude-6.4 temblor rocked Zarand, a town of about 15,000 people in Kerman Province, 602 miles southeast of Tehran. It killed 612 people and injured more than 1,400, leveling several villages and leaving thousands of people homeless.

On Saturday, a strong earthquake struck central China, killing at least 15 people, injuring more than 450, and destroying hundreds of buildings, the government said.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the magnitude-5.7 quake hit Saturday morning and was centered in central Jiangxi Province's Ruichang city near the border of Hubei Province. The US Geological Survey reported the quake had a magnitude of 5.5.

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