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AT Least 20 Dead in Iran Earthquake - 2004-05-28

More than 20 people were killed by a strong earthquake that struck along Iran's northern coast Friday evening, about 5:00 pm local time.

The quake's epicenter was located about 70 kilometers north of Tehran, in the seaside community of Chalus. A local official says more than 80 villages have been partly or totally destroyed. The quake's tremors were felt in the capital, where terrified residents ran into the streets.

Iran's Red Crescent said it was dispatching search and rescue teams to all the provinces in the area where the quake hit.

Senior government officials were quoted by Iran's official IRNA news agency as saying preliminary inspection of the region by helicopter indicated the death toll would not likely be very high and that damage was not significant.

Iran was devastated by a huge earthquake last December that flattened 70 percent of the city of Bam and killed an estimated 26,000 people.

Iran sits on several active seismic fault lines and earthquakes are common.

A professor of Iranian studies at Ein Shams University in Cairo, Mohammed el Saiid Abdel Moemem, says buildings in Iran are subject to severe damage because the country does not have the technology to make them more earth earthquake resistant. "It's such a rich country, but it has no technology to take these facilities to be more stronger than this," he said.

There are conflicting reports about the magnitude of Friday's earthquake, but estimates range from 5.5 on the Richter scale to 6.2.

In 1990, an earthquake struck Iran's northern coast, killing more than 30,000 people and injuring about 100,000 others.