Strong quake kills 10, wounds 50 in South Iran

By Alireza Ronaghi

TEHRAN - Ten people were killed and 50 injured when an earthquake razed mud-brick villages on the Gulf island of Qeshm off Iran's south coast yesterday, officials and state media said.

Iran's official news agency IRNA said the quake, with a magnitude of 5.9, shook southern Iran for about 10 to 15 seconds at 1.53pm (11.23pm NZT).

Tahereh Irankhah, a volunteer with the Red Crescent in Qeshm, said the main hospital on the island was struggling to keep up with the number of patients.

"The number of people injured is very high, and people are in the corridors. We need tents and blankets," she said.

State media said there were three strong aftershocks.

"The earthquake was really strong and people poured into the streets in panic. My husband immediately rushed off to one of the stricken villages," said Sara Sadeqi, 22, a housewife in Qeshm City, the island's capital.

State television quoted the disaster centre in the province of Hormuzgan, which administrates Qeshm, saying 10 people were killed. Regional Governor Heidar Alishvandi said 50 were injured.

Mohsen Kazemi from Iran's Red Crescent relief agency told Reuters the four hardest hit villages were Tonban, Gavarzin, Khaledin and Gourian.

Qeshm is the biggest island in the Gulf and is a free-trade zone in southern Hormuzgan province with a population of about 120,000.

It is famed for its palm forests and its beaches are much loved by tourists and nesting sea turtles.

The US Geological Survey said the quake was of 6.1 magnitude, and placed it about 58km southwest of the Gulf port of Bandar Abbas.

There is a large refinery at Bandar Abbas, but state television quoted Iran's Opec governor, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, as saying the country's oil output and production facilities had not been affected by the quake.

The tremor was the first fatal quake in Iran since February when more than 600 people died in a magnitude 6.4 tremor, centred on the town of Zarand about 700km southeast of Tehran.

That quake revived painful memories of the devastating 6.8-magnitude quake in 2003 that killed 31,000 people in the desert citadel city of Bam, 1000km southeast of Tehran.

Sunday's tremor was also felt in the neighbouring United Arab Emirates.

Witnesses in high-rise buildings said they felt the ground shake for about a minute. Many residents left their buildings and waited on the streets.

- REUTERS

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