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Large Earthquake Hits Southern Iran

A large earthquake has struck southern Iran. Iranian authorities say it killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 50 in the sparsely-populated area.

The 5.9 magnitude quake devastated several mud-brick villages on the Persian Gulf island of Qeshm, off Iran's southern coast.

Health workers say the island's main hospital is overloaded with wounded patients. Officials say some of the injured are being transferred to the mainland by helicopter. The Red Crescent relief agency is trying to get supplies to the area, including tents to shelter people who cannot go back into their damaged homes.

Local authorities say they do not expect a very high death toll because the area is not heavily populated.

The earthquake was centered near Qeshm and the mainland city of Bandar Abbas. Qeshm is the largest island in the Persian Gulf, an active free-trade zone, and a popular weekend getaway for Iranian vacationers.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors seismic activity around the world, initially said the quake was magnitude 6.1, but later revised that assessment downward to 5.1, in line with the Iranian seismological center. The U.S.G.S. says a strong 5.4 magnitude aftershock struck about six hours later.

Iran is criss-crossed by several seismic fault lines, and is prone to earthquakes. The last fatal one occurred in February in southeastern Iran. It killed more than 600 people.

In 2003, a massive 6.8 magnitude earthquake killed 31,000 people in the ancient Iranian city of Bam.

Sunday's earthquake also shook buildings in nearby Oman and the United Arab Emirates, which are less than 100 kilometers from the island across the Straits of Hormuz.

Reports from Dubai say several high-rise office buildings were evacuated in the city center.