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Earthquake Flattens Villages in Western Iran, Kills More than 60

Three moderate to strong earthquakes struck western Iran overnight Thursday and early Friday. Iranian officials say at least 66 people have been killed, and more than a thousand injured.

Three earthquakes and a number of aftershocks flattened several villages in western Iran. Hospitals are reported to be overflowing with wounded. Local officials said rescuers are continuing to dig through shattered buildings in the hope of finding survivors.

Local authorities said many of the casualties were people who had been sleeping when the quakes struck in the night. But some reports from the region indicate that many residents may have evacuated their homes, and slept outside after the early tremor, possibly saving their lives.

State television quoted the provincial governor as saying that the quake had damaged at least 330 villages in the sparsely populated western region.

The Iranian Red Crescent Society is rushing aid to the affected region, especially blankets and shelters for people who have lost their homes.

The first of the tremors hit a little after 11:00 p.m. local time, (1930 UTC), and more struck over the next six hours. Iranian seismologists said the strongest tremor was magnitude 6.0, while the U.S. Geological Survey, which measures seismic activity worldwide, estimated it at magnitude 5.7.

A smaller fourth quake hit the same region in the late afternoon on Friday.

Speaking in Britain, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States is prepared to offer humanitarian aid to Iran if necessary.

Iran is prone to severe earthquakes. The worst one in recent years leveled the ancient city of Bam in 2003, killing more than 26,000 people.