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In southeastern Iran, rescuers search for quake victims

By Joe Sterling, CNN
The quake struck late Monday and was felt hardest in mostly rural, relatively sparsely populated areas of Kerman province.
The quake struck late Monday and was felt hardest in mostly rural, relatively sparsely populated areas of Kerman province.
  • NEW: Aftershocks are felt after the quake
  • The death toll is expected to rise, state-run media says
  • The strike was centered in a largely rural area
  • Iran experiences quakes almost daily

(CNN) -- Rescuers in Iran worked furiously Tuesday to free people trapped under rubble, a day after a powerful earthquake rippled through a rural stretch of villages in the country's southeastern region, Iranian media reported.

Iran's Press TV said aftershocks followed the 6.5 magnitude Monday quake that struck at least 70 villages in Kerman province.

Iranian authorities recorded seven deaths and dozens of injuries so far, but authorities expect the casualty toll to rise in the quake -- just over 60 miles away from the site of a deadly tremor that killed 30,000 people seven years ago in the city of Bam.

Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency reported that scores of people are trapped in the debris of buildings that have been destroyed. Many such sites are in hard-to-reach locations, making any rescue operations even more difficult.

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Map: Quake zone

Jessica Sigala, a U.S. Geological Survey physicist in Golden, Colorado, thinks the number of deaths could range from between 10 to 1,000, based on statistics and information about past earthquakes.

She said that while this latest event was similar in magnitude to the Bam quake, which measured at 6.6 magnitude, the Monday quake struck a more remote region about 63 miles away from that city.

"That's an important thing to realize. That distance will help decrease the fatality rate as well as the damage," she said. "There isn't a big city anywhere to be seen."

But, she said, that doesn't mean the quake wasn't felt through the region.

In fact, said Kerman governor Esmail Najjar, the tremors were felt as far away as Hormozgan province, which lies on the Persian Gulf, and Sistan-Baluchestan province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Considering the dimensions of the damage, the death toll is expected to rise.
--Kerman governor general
  • Earthquakes
  • Iran

It was also felt in Bam and other cities, such as Zahedan, Khash and Iranshahr.

"Considering the dimensions of the damage, the death toll is expected to rise," Najjar was quoted as saying by the IRNA news agency.

The high-impact zone's population -- which Najjar estimated at between 5,000 and 6,000 people -- was widely dispersed.

The quake's epicenter was around the town of Hosseinabad. Many of the structures in the quake-hit region use adobe as construction material, and that can crumble in earthquakes, Press TV reported.

Photos in Iranian media showed pictures of rubble and people huddled outside damaged buildings. Images showed some bodies wrapped in sheets and people crying.

Javad Kamali, a deputy governor for Kerman province, told the IRNA that the tremor knocked down phone lines throughout the region. Military and law enforcement workers could communicate only using wireless technology, he added.

Relief and recovery teams, some from outside the area, have converged around the village of Hosseinabad, between the towns of Fahraj and Rigan, Kamali said.

In addition, IRNA reported that Kerman province's disaster council convened an emergency meeting to assess possible damage and coordinate potential aid and assistance efforts.

Iran lies on a series of seismic fault lines and experiences earthquakes almost daily, and at times, they have had devastating consequences, such as the quake in Bam.

Last year, an earthquake struck Hormozgan province in southern Iran, injuring about 700 people in the port city of Bandar Abbas, state media reported.

And there's been plenty of activity in recent months as well. In early November, a 4.9-magnitude earthquake in the northwestern Lorestan province injured at least 80 people, according to IRNA.

One person died two months earlier when a quake measuring magnitude-5.5 struck southern Iran, and in August three were killed after a 5.7-magnitude tremor in northern Iran, several state news agencies reported.

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report