A powerful earthquake devastated 200 villages in the remote mountains of northeastern Iran on Saturday, killing at least 2,000 and injuring 5,000. Survivors frantically pulled victims from collapsed buildings and rushed them to makeshift emergency centers.
Iran appealed for international aid for the stricken villages and towns, many of them cut off by landslides triggered by the magnitude 7.1 quake. Iranian volunteers hurried to the region to help dig out the dead and injured, state-run Tehran radio said.
Iranian authorities early todaysaid the death toll had increased to at least 2,000, according to the radio. The figure was nearly double the 1,100 reported Saturday.
People slept in Qayen's streets Saturday night, shivering in the 41-degree air but too scared to go indoors, fearing that further quakes would strike the region. Ten thousand homes collapsed in Qayen, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said.
The earthquake struck at 12:28 p.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo. It was centered 65 miles north-northeast of Birjand near Qayen, about 70 miles west of the Afghan border.
Most of the damage occurred in the 60-mile stretch between Birjand and Qayen, a region dotted by poor villages and mud huts. The Iranian news agency said there was considerable damage in Afghanistan but gave no other details.
"I was outside when I heard the mountain roar like a dragon, and suddenly the air became dark as night from the thick cloud of dust," said one survivor, Gholamreza Nowrouz-Zadeh.
More than 100 children, including all six of his grandchildren, were killed when the schoolhouse collapsed in his village of Ardakul, about 60 miles east of Qayen, he said crying.
"Three of them were pulled out dead, but three others are still buried under the rubble," Nowrouz-Zadeh said.
Nowrouz-Zadeh was one of about 300 injured people, many bleeding profusely, who were sent to a makeshift care center at a stadium in Qayen.
He lay on the floor with a blood-soaked bandage around his head. Nearby, dozens of intravenous sacks hung from donated coatracks.
Dr. Mohammed Hossein Mozaffar said more physicians were urgently needed.
"I can't deal with this alone," he said as he put a cast on the leg of a wailing 5-year-old boy clinging to his mother.
"I don't know how many casts I have done today, but it seems like hundreds," Mozaffar said, pointing to piles of empty boxes of casting chalk around him.
President Hashemi Rafsanjani, on a visit to Tajikistan, sent his condolences to quake victims and their families, the Iranian news agency reported.
Aftershocks continued Saturday, hampering relief efforts, according to the news agency.
Interior Minister Ali Mohammed Besharati asked for international aid, saying Iran was "ready to receive assistance from our God-seeking compatriots and from those countries that would like to assist the earthquake victims," Tehran television reported.
The radio broadcast a desperate appeal for surgical teams, medical supplies, tents, food, water tankers and ambulances. It said water and power lines to the stricken villages had been severed.
Tehran radio said about 200 villages were either destroyed or severely damaged and that 400 relief teams had been dispatched to the area, home to about 40,000 people.
Most of the villagers in the region are subsistence farmers who either tend camels or sheep or grow wheat and saffron. Many of the injured looked weak and malnourished.
Mashhad, the capital of Khorasan province and about 180 miles north of Qayen, is the nearest place equipped to deal with large numbers of injured, but it is a five-hour drive over rough terrain.
Because many of the narrow dirt roads to the area were cut off by landslides or had collapsed, helicopters ferried tents, food and fuel to villages from Mashhad.
The earthquake also was felt in the neighboring provinces of Sistan-Baluchistan, Kerman and Semnan, Tehran radio said.
It was the strongest earthquake to strike Iran since two powerful temblors hit northwestern Gilan and Zanjan provinces on June 21, 1990. At least 35,000 people were killed and 60,000 injured in the quakes, which had magnitudes of 7.3 and 7.7.
The last major quake to hit Khorasan struck on Sept. 16, 1978, killing 25,000 people. That temblor measured 7.7.
Iran is prone to earthquakes and experiences scores of small tremors every year.