A magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck northwestern Iran overnight, killing at least three people and injuring more than 800 in the region near the border with Turkey state officials and media said on Sunday.
Panicked residents fled their homes as buildings collapsed and cars were crushed by debris. Hundreds sought shelter from freezing winter conditions in evacuation centers as more than 20 aftershocks ravaged the region.
The shallow earthquake struck the town of Khoy, with a population of about 200,000, in West Azerbaijan province at 9:44 pm (1814 GMT) Saturday, the Seismological Center of Tehran University said.
“This incident left 816 injured and three dead,” West Azerbaijan governor Mohammad Sadegh Motamedian told IRNA news agency.
People were wrapped in blankets and huddled around fires in the snowy area, in images published by Iranian media, while state television broadcast footage of extensive damage to residential buildings, including half-destroyed homes.
Buildings in 70 villages sustained earthquake damage, the state news agency reported, with rescuers clearing the rubble to free those trapped in the area about 800 kilometers (500 mi) northwest of the capital Tehran.
Pirhossein Koolivand, the leader of Iran’s Red Crescent, later announced that search and rescue operations had been completed and no survivors or bodies were trapped.
Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi traveled to Khoy to observe the situation, where he said water, power and gas connections had been affected but restored, IRNA reported.
– History of major earthquakes –
Iran straddles the boundaries of several major tectonic plates and experiences frequent seismic activity.
On January 18, an earlier magnitude 5.8 earthquake near Khoy left hundreds injured.
In February 2020, a magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck the village of Habash-e Olya in western Turkey, killing at least nine people.
Iran’s deadliest quake on record was a magnitude 7.4 quake in 1990 that killed 40,000 people, injured 300,000 and left half a million people homeless in the north of the country.
In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake in southeastern Iran leveled the ancient mud-brick city of Bam, killing at least 31,000 people.
In November 2017, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake in Iran’s western Kermanshah province killed 620 people.
And in December 2019 and January 2020, two earthquakes occurred near the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran.
Iran’s Arab Gulf neighbors have expressed concerns about the reliability of the country’s only nuclear power plant and the risk of radioactive leaks in the event of a major earthquake.