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Powerful Earthquake Rocks Southeastern Iran, at Least 400 Killed

A powerful earthquake struck southeastern Iran at about 6 am, Tuesday, killing at least 400 people people and injuring hundreds more. Authorities say the death toll could rise, as rescuers make their way to damaged villages. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake measured 6.4 on the open-ended Richter scale and struck in the same province where a quake in December, 2003, killed more than 30,000 Iranians.

I ranian state television showed villagers in southeastern Iran scrambling to pull bodies and injured residents from the rubble of homes made mostly of mud and slabs of concrete.

Ambulances were seen carrying the dead and injured, while survivors sat in grief next to their dead relatives. Others were shown on hospital beds, with bloodied faces and broken bones.

Residents are being urged to leave their homes, in anticipation of severe aftershocks.

Rain is apparently hampering rescue efforts. Blocked roads have prevented emergency workers from reaching several villages. And, electricity is reported to have been knocked out in several areas.

The epicenter of the quake was near Zarand, some 740-kilometers southeast of Tehran. Several other villages were said to have been heavily damaged or destroyed. A natural disaster official in Iran says five villages suffered 20-to-70-percent damage.

Officials in Zarand say all hospitals in the town are filled to capacity.

The scenes are reminiscent of a devastating earthquake that struck in the same province of Iran 14-months ago. That temblor destroyed the ancient city, Bam, and killed more than 30,000 people.

Iran is frequently hit by powerful earthquakes. In the 20th Century,140,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands more injured in thousands of earthquakes.

In May 2004, 35 people were killed and more than 200 others were injured in a temblor that struck Tehran and northern Iran.