Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Huge 7.8-magnitude earthquake hits near Iran-Pakistan border

Many feared dead as tremors felt as far as north India and Gulf states after quake strikes near Iranian city of Khash

A powerful earthquake has hit the border regions between Iran and Pakistan, with reports of casualties currently confused.

Communications to the region near the epicentre, in a remote corner of the south-east of Iran, appear to be cut off.

Tremors were felt across the Gulf region, across Pakistan and well into north-west India on Tuesday, when the quake struck at 10.44am GMT.

The US Geological Survey said it had measured the earthquake at magnitude 7.8 and gave its location at 50 miles east-south-east of the town of Khash, in Iran. It is the biggest earthquake to strike Iran for 40 years.

Though the area is largely desert and mountains, there are several major cities, including Zahedan, only 125 miles away, which has more than half a million inhabitants.

One Iranian told The Guardian that the small town of Hiduj, which had a population of around 1,000 according to a national census conducted in 2006, had been badly damaged.

The Iranian semi-official news agency Fars quoted Tehran University's geophysics centre as saying the quake had hit the south-eastern city of Saravan in Iran's Sistan and Baluchistan province, at 3.14pm local time and reported that it had killed at least 40 people, according to some of their sources. At least seven villages near Saravan had been affected, the agency said.

But Fars also quoted Fariborz Rashedi, the head of medical emergencies for Sistan and Baluchistan province as saying the situation in his province was "normal", with only three people injured.

On the Pakistan side, the situation seemed just as confused.

"We have reports of three deaths near the Pakistan-Iran border in MashKhel area of Panjgore district," said a local government official, requesting anonymity.

The official said that around 40 people had sustained injuries from collapsing wooden roofs and mud walls. The sparsely populated district is one of Pakistan's most underdeveloped, with minimal telecommunication and infrastructure.

There is no official announcement of a death toll by Pakistan's disaster management authority. However, a police officer in the Kalat district, near the provincial capital of Quetta, said they are assessing the damage in towns along to the Iranian border.

There are reports of panic in the southern port city of Karachi where residential buildings and government offices have developed cracks.

Saleh Mangi, from the NGO Plan International, said he was in a meeting with staff in their office in Thatta, around 65 miles from Karachi, when they felt the ground shake. "It was horrible – we felt the movement in the chairs and even the cupboards were shaking. This is the strongest quake I have felt since the 1980s. And this is an area prone to earthquakes and cyclones."

"We sounded our emergency alarm and emergency alarms were going off in the houses around us. Everyone was pouring out of their homes and offices. People were afraid and didn't know what was happening. People are afraid to go back to their homes and the government is telling fishing communities [on the coast] not to go into the sea as that would be very dangerous."

Close to 8 magnitude means an extremely powerful quake, on a level with that in Sichuan province, China, in 2008 which killed an estimated 68,000 people.

An Iranian citizen in the southern city of Shiraz, around 650 miles from the epicentre, said the quake was felt there.

There was concern that facilities associated with Iran's controversial nuclear programme might have been affected.

A witness in the city of Saravan told BBC's Persian service: "The earthquake was felt gravely across the city and the old part of the city as well as its main sport centre have been destroyed but thanks God because it could be worse."

Ahmad-Reza Shajiee, the deputy head of Iran's Red Crescent told the state Irna news agency that a complicated emergency situation is facing affected areas in Iran's Sistan and Baluchistan province.

"Soon after we received the news about the quake, a crisis meeting was held and a group of rescuers from the Red Crescent society were dispatched to Sistan and Baluchistan province," he said.

However the Bushehr nuclear power plant was not damaged, an official at the Russian company that built the plant said. The official at Atomstroyexport, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had spoken to a colleague at the plant after the quake and that no damage was reported.

Bushehr, Iran's sole nuclear power plant, is near the Gulf coast in western Iran, while the quake struck in eastern Iran near the border with Pakistan. There was no immediate independent confirmation of his statement.

In Delhi, India, more than 1,500 miles from the suspected epicentre, office workers evacuated buildings as fittings shook and windows rattled. Tremors lasted for around 30 seconds.

"It was very frightening. Everything started moving. I ran into the street," said Ghautam Menon, an office worker in the south of the Indian capital.

In 2003, a major earthquake near the Iranian city of Bam, not far from today's epicentre, killed 30,000.

Iran suffers frequent earthquakes. A week ago, a 6.1 magnitude quake hit near Bushehr, on Iran's Persian Gulf coast, killing at least 37 people.

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Tom McCarthy, Paul Owen 16 Apr, 2013

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/16/earthquake-hits-iran-pakistan-border
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