Quake Hits Iran, Pakistan; Dozens Killed

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -
Office workers stand outside their buildings following an earthquake tremor in Karachi Tuesday. (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)
Office workers stand outside their buildings following an earthquake tremor in Karachi Tuesday. (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

An earthquake toppled homes and shops on both sides of the Iran-Pakistan border Tuesday, killing dozens of people and causing skyscrapers to sway in Dubai. It also forced Iranian officials — for the second time in less than a week — to issue assurances that its main nuclear reactor wasn’t damaged.

At least 34 people were killed in a single village in Pakistan, a military official said. But the overall death toll became clouded after conflicting reports from Iran.

At first, Iran’s state-run media said at least 40 people died —which would push the two-nation tally to 74. But it later retreated from its account, and other Iranian outlets stepped in with a far less dire picture.

Despite the conflicting reports on the Iranian side, a Pakistani military official said at least 34 were killed on their side of the border and 80 were injured. Up to 1,000 mud homes were damaged, Pakistan media added. The military spoke on condition of anonymity in line with Pakistan military policy.

A Pakistani policeman, 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, ages five 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.

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.

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.

Iran’s nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi said there was no damage to the Bushehr reactor and invited U.N. inspectors to visit, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported. Abbasi repeated the statement issued after last week’s quake: The Bushehr plan was built to withstand quakes up to magnitude 8, which is considerably stronger than Tuesday’s temblor.

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security also called any damage to Bushehr “unlikely” from the latest quake, which is nearly 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the border region.

Rowena Lohman, an earthquake physics expert at Cornell University, said some unusual geophysics may have prevented much greater damage and casualties.

“Today’s earthquake in southeastern Iran was large but fairly deep, which reduces the expected level of damage relative to a shallower earthquake of the same magnitude,” she was quoted as saying in a statement.

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.”

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