Three strong quakes in western Iran: at least 66 killed, 1,000 injured

Three strong earthquakes and several aftershocks jolted western Iran overnight, killing at least 66 people and injuring about 1,200 others, state television reported Friday. The initial quake of magnitude 4.7 struck a mountainous region in western Iran late Thursday. It was followed by a quake of magnitude 5.1 that struck Boroujerd and Doroud, two industrial cities in western Iran , at 11:06 p.m. local time Thursday (1936 GMT), state television said.

A third temblor of magnitude 6.0 hit Doroud and surrounding villages at 4:47 a.m. local time (0117 GMT) on Friday, the television reported. A total of 66 bodies had been recovered from houses in destroyed in Silakhor, a region north of Doroud, the television reported.

The provincial head of the Unexpected Disaster Committee, Ali Barani, said no fewer than 200 villages were damaged, and some were flattened. Most of the 1,200 people injured had been in bed when the quake struck, the television said. The quake in the middle of the night caused panic, with citizens in Doroud running out of their homes. Many spent the night in open space, residents said.

"We are afraid to get back home. I spent the night with my family and guests in open space last night," Doroud resident Mahmoud Chaharmiri told The Associated Press by telephone. Twelve aftershocks were registered after the first quake, said Nabi Bidhendi, the head of Tehran Tehran University 's Geophysics Institute.

Such quakes have killed thousands of people in the past in the countryside where houses are often built of mudbricks, but initial reports suggested the devastation had not been so widespread this time, Chaharmiri said. The epicenter of Thursday night's quake was in the mountains south of Boroujerd and north of Doroud.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported a 5.7-magnitude quake at 4:47 a.m. , followed by a 4.7-magnitude 15 minutes later. Their epicenters were 210 miles (340 kilometers) southwest of Tehran . The area had been hit by a 4.7-magnitude quake the day before, the USGS said.

Disaster official Barani told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that rescue teams had been sent to the region to help the survivors. He said survivors were in urgent need of blankets, tents and food. First television images of the quake showed survivors standing next to their destroyed houses in villages north of Doroud. The television also showed dozens of sheep and goats killed by the quake.

Barani said hospitals in the cities of Doroud and Boroujerd were full to their capacity and could not receive further injured, the television reported. Officials recalled on doctors and nurses from vacation to help treat the injured. Iranians are celebrating Nowruz, or new year, and most government offices are closed and their staff on holiday.

Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. It experiences at least one slight earthquake everyday on average. In February 2005, a 6.4-magnitude quake rocked the town of Zarand in southern Iran , killing 612 people and injuring more than 1,400. A magnitude-6.6 quake flattened the historic southeastern city of Bam in the same region in December 2003, killing 26,000 people, reports the AP.

N.U.