A powerful earthquake flattened homes and offices on both sides of the Iran-Pakistan border Tuesday and was felt in the Gulf and South Asia.
Pakistani officials said at least eight people were killed and 20 injured in the town of Mashkeel in the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, which borders Iran.
Iranian state media said at least 46 people died, but later Iranian reports offered a far milder picture.
The discrepancies and apparent backtracking in the Iranian reports could not be immediately reconciled, but Iran has faced two large quakes in less than week and authorities could seek to downplay casualties.
Iran’s state-run Press TV initially said at least 40 people were killed on the Iranian side, but later removed the figure from its website and news scroll. Other state-controlled outlets, including the official IRNA news agency, mentioned no deaths and only injuries, quoting a local official.
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. Press TV called it “massive.”
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.
The earthquake also shook buildings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, across the waters of the Gulf in the United Arab Emirates. It was also felt in the Saudi capital Riyadh and in Oman.
In the tourist hub of Dubai, residential and office buildings were evacuated and thousands of people gathered outside skyscrapers.
“Everybody’s on the streets. There’s a state of panic,” said the director of an insurance company in the city center who identified himself only as Rami.
The grandiose Dubai Mall was completely evacuated, according to employees who said people were evacuated from towers in Downtown Dubai, home to the world’s tallest building.
The quake was also strongly felt in Kuwait, particularly in coastal areas, and in the Bahraini capital Manama, where buildings in the central financial district were evacuated.
It was felt across northern India, including in the capital New Delhi. where tremors rattled buildings and led many office workers to run into the street as a precaution.
“We felt the jerks,” said SC Basu, a retired government engineer who lives in the east of the Indian capital. “Our beds shook and crockery rattled. Many people left for outside.”
There were no immediate reports of any damage or casualties in India, but concern remains high just 10 days after the collapse of a building in Mumbai killed 72 people.
Iran’s Seismological Centre said the 7.5-magnitude quake struck at 3:14 pm (1044 GMT) in the southeast near the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It had initially put the depth of the quake at 18km (11 miles) but later revised it to 95km (59 miles).
The US Geological Survey put the magnitude of the quake at 7.8, and said it struck near the Iranian city of Khash, in the province of Sistan Baluchistan.
Dr David Rothery, chair of the volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis course at Britain’s Open University, said “this morning’s earthquake in Iran was strong... but fortunately its source was quite deep.
“Although the ground probably shook for the best part of a minute, the intensity of the shaking was less than it would have been for a shallower earthquake of the same magnitude.”
But he added that the area “is mountainous, and damage can be expected from landslides as well as because of poorly constructed buildings.”
Iran sits astride several major fault lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes, some of which have been devastating.
A double earthquake, one measuring 6.2 and the other 6.0, struck northwest Iran last August, killing more than 300 people and injuring 3,000.
In December 2003, a massive quake struck the southern city of Bam. It killed 26,271 people -- about a quarter of the population -- and destroyed the city’s ancient mud-built citadel.
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