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Iranian Officials Say 20,000 Dead In Quake - 2003-12-26

The death toll from Friday's earthquake in southeastern Iran is rising, with government officials now saying at least 20,000 people were killed.

Officials say 50,000 others were wounded when the quake hit the city of Bam, which has a population of 80,000 people.

Rescue workers are frantically searching for survivors in the rubble of Friday morning's devastating earthquake in southeast Iran.

Iran's state news media say thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands injured following the quake, which struck about 5:30 in the morning local time near the ancient city of Bam, located 1,000 kilometers southeast of the capital, Tehran.

Dozens of aftershocks have been reported, and local authorities say they expect the death toll to climb dramatically.

Iranian authorities say the majority of the ancient city's buildings collapsed during the quake that the U.S. Geological Survey said measured 6.7 on the Richter scale. Among the destroyed structures was a 2,000-year- old citadel and the city's two hospitals.

Rescuers, using helicopters and C-130 transport planes, have ferried thousands of injured Iranians to medical facilities located in nearby towns.

Water, electricity and telephone lines were cut as the result of the earthquake. Aid agencies are calling for donations of blood, blankets, food, clothing, tents and medicine.

The United Nations and several countries, including Russia, Germany, Turkey, Spain and France, are offering aid.

Iran's state run news agency (IRNA) says several thousand victims have already been buried. The Iranian government has called for three days of official mourning.

Several major fault lines run through Iran, making the country earthquake-prone. More than 220 people were killed in June of 2002 following a quake in northern Iran. In 1990, 35,000 people were killed after a devastating earthquake in northwest Iran.