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Iran quake toll reaches 400


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A quake rocks the central Iranian town of Zarand.
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(CNN) -- Rescuers searched through the night in central Iran for survivors of the magnitude 6.4 magnitude earthquake that flattened buildings and forced residents to take shelter in tent cities.

The death toll has risen to at least 400, officials said.

Earlier, an Interior Ministry spokesman said that at least 950 people were injured in the quake, which struck Tuesday near Zarand, a city of about 135,000 people in Kerman province. (Map)

Provincial officials told Iranian television that about 40 villages were affected, with seven more than 90 percent destroyed and 25 others more than half destroyed.

The governor of Zarand said his city was not heavily damaged. The quake killed 20 people there, and about 280 others were taken to hospitals, officials said.

"The number of killed people may be raised," said M.J. Fadayee, director of emergency efforts in Kerman province. "We are still working to find the people. Unfortunately, we will have more."

The Iranian government declared Wednesday a national day of mourning.

A magnitude 6.4 is classified as a strong earthquake by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake, which struck about 5:55 a.m. local time Tuesday (9:25 p.m. Monday ET), sent panicked residents pouring into the streets. Motorcycles were navigating crowded avenues and transporting the injured to hospitals.

Some roads already have been washed away by rain, which is expected to get heavier later Tuesday, officials said. A cold night has been forecast.

Kari Egge, a UNICEF representative in Iran, said the rain had stopped, however, and a bright sun was warming the area during daylight hours. She was in the village of Dohan, which she said was "completely flattened."

"For the time being, we are still digging around in the rubble," she said. The atmosphere is "confused ... a lot of people are walking around in the rubble" looking for the site of their homes or hoping to find a family member. "The damage is such that it's hard to find anything."

Egge said that survivors likely would be taken to a nearby village, where structures were still standing, for the night but that temporary shelter would be needed shortly.

At least two villages were inaccessible at first because of mudslides and mountainous terrain, but officials told Iranian television that rescuers had reached one and were nearing the second.

In one village, a large group was attending a religious service at a mosque when the quake hit, destroying the facility, authorities told the network. The extent of casualties was unknown.

Video from a village outside the provincial capital of Kerman, aired on the state network, showed structures with heavy damage and collapsed walls as well as corpses covered in blankets. Residents were digging through the rubble using shovels.

Helicopters were sent to help transport the injured to Kerman and help identify ways to reach less accessible areas.

Officials told state-run television that crews were working to restore power.

The Iranian government has not appealed to the international community for help, with officials saying the situation is under control and telling Iranian television they hope to wrap up rescue and recovery efforts by the time dark falls Tuesday. Some relief flights had been started from Tehran, state-run television reported.

Initial reports indicate the epicenter of the temblor was near the villages of Khanouk, Islamabad and Mottaharabad, state television said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centered about 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of Kerman at a depth of about 26 miles (42 kilometers).

Zarand is about 125 miles (201 kilometers) from Bam, where a 6.6 magnitude quake in December 2003 killed at least 26,000 people and injured another 30,000.

But Zarand, about 460 miles (740 kilometers) southeast of Tehran, is in a more sparsely populated area than Bam.

The Bam earthquake was also much closer to the Earth's surface.

A deeper earthquake allows "more time for the energy to dissipate, and that means less intense shaking [on the surface]," said David Applegate, a senior adviser to the U.S. Geological Survey.

CNN's Kasra Naji and journalist Shirzad Bozorgmehr in Tehran contributed to this report.


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