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Death Toll Rising Following Powerful Earthquake in Iran

The death toll continues to rise following an earthquake early Tuesday in the southeastern Iranian province of Kerman. At least 400 people have reportedly been killed and many hundreds more injured. Dozens of villages were damaged or completely flattened. Even so, the Iranian government has said there is no need for international assistance.

Devastated Iranians worked throughout the day Tuesday frantically clawing through rubble, debris and mud trying to find their loved ones.

Many residents were seen weeping as they sat next to bloodied blankets and sheets containing the bodies of dead relatives.

With freezing rain drenching their devastated villages, shrieks of pain and anguish were heard as more bodies were unearthed from the rubble. In some areas, residents had already starting burying the dead.

The powerful quake, registering 6.4 on the Richter scale, ravaged dozens of villages not far from where a December 2003 earthquake killed as many as 30,000 Iranians and destroyed the ancient city of Bam. Officials in Iran say they expect the death toll to rise because many villages were completely flattened.

The temblor struck at about 6 am local time; its epicenter was near the town of Zarand, where the population is about 15,000. The town is located some 700 kilometers southeast of Tehran.

Within hours of the quake, all hospitals in Zarand were overflowing with patients. Some of the injured were taken by trains to hospitals in nearby Kerman.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by freezing rain, blocked roads and downed power and telephone lines.

Relief teams moved in as quickly as they could to provide food, tents and blankets. In many villages, there is no shelter. The Iranian Red Crescent has made an emergency appeal for clothes, medical supplies, food and water.

The government in Tehran, which called for a national day of mourning on Wednesday, said there was no need for international assistance.

Iran is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. On average, at least one slight earthquake strikes the country every day. During the 20th century, as many as 140,000 people were killed in earthquakes in Iran with hundreds of thousands more injured.