DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran Tuesday was hit by a major earthquake centered in the eastern region near the border with Pakistan and felt as far away as Dubai and Delhi.
The quake struck at 3:14 p.m. local time and was measured at 7.8 by the U.S. Geological Survey. Iranian seismologists measured it at 7.7, and said its epicenter was at Saravan in the mountainous eastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan, according to state-run television. There were conflicting reports on the numbers of dead and injured.
Much of Iran lies close to geological fault-lines and is prone to earthquakes. A major tremor in 2003 flattened the southern city of Bam and killed about 40,000 people. A smaller quake last week hit the province of Bushehr and raised concerns about the safety of the nuclear plant located there.
Hedayatollah Mir-Moradzehi, a lawmaker who represents Saravan, as well as Iran's Press TV initially said that 40 people had died. Iranian state television said later that the number came from foreign media. Mohammad-Sharif Khalegi, governor of Saravan, told the channel that the number of injured townspeople was 27. At least 21 people died in Pakistan, state- run television reported.
Casualties may be limited because the region is sparsely populated, state-run Fars News Agency cited Mohamed Sarvar, deputy head of emergency services, as saying. Morteza Moradipour, a Red Crescent official, said because the quake had a depth of 95 kilometers (59 miles), its impact was similar to that of a 4 magnitude event, state-run Mehr said.
Water services, electricity and telephone communications were fixed in 30 minutes, Hatam Narouei, governor of Sistan and Baluchistan, told state television. He said the center of the quake was an unpopulated desert area and that urban areas of Saravan suffered minor damage.
There are about 1,700 villages in the Saravan area, state television said, and Fars said many houses there are made of mud brick that can easily crumble in a quake.
"Much of the population in the region probably live in buildings particularly vulnerable to ground shaking, such as adobe or other unreinforced structures," Steven Godby, earthquakes expert at Nottingham Trent University, said in an e- mailed response to a question.
In the Bam earthquake of 2003, large numbers of these kinds of structures collapsed, including essential buildings, such as hospitals and fire stations, Godby said. Secondary hazards such as landslides may also add to the economic losses by affecting critical infrastructure and making access to remote areas difficult, he added.
Iranian state television said the Bushehr plant, which is about 1,140 kilometers from the epicenter of today's quake, is functioning normally.
In Pakistan, at least 21 people were killed, 150 injured and 100 buildings destroyed in southwestern Baluchistan, state- run PTV reported. "Hundreds of two-room mud houses in the province have collapsed," said Farooq Kubdani, coordinator for Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Mashkel, a town of about 70,000.
"Several people are still missing and we suspect they are buried under the debris of the houses," Kubdani added. "Also the main bazaar of the town Mashkel has completely collapsed."
In Karachi, Pakistan's financial center, residents ran into the streets, and buildings also shook in northern India.
On the other side of the Persian Gulf, buildings were evacuated in Dubai and other cities where the quake was felt.
Iranian state television said 2,000 emergency tents have been sent to Saravan, a town of 240,000 residents, according to state television. Turkey's Red Crescent said it was preparing aid for Iran, including tents, blankets and food.
— With assistance from Faseeh Mangi and Khurrum Anis in Karachi, Ladane Nasseri in Dubai, Andres R. Martinez in Johannesburg and Augustine Anthony in Islamabad.