TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- A strong earthquake of magnitude 5.9 struck northwestern Iran on Friday, killing at least five people and injuring more than 300.
The quake hit the Tark county at 2:17 a.m. (2247 GMT) and was followed by more than 60 aftershocks, causing panic among residents who rushed out of their houses in the middle of the night.
"Rescue teams and helicopters have been dispatched to the quake-hit areas and hospitals are on full alert to help injured people. Unfortunately six people were killed and 345 were injured," Iran's emergency medical services chief Pirhussein Kolivand said.
The quake was felt in several towns and cities in Iran. The European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) said the quake was felt by some 20 million people.
It had a shallow depth of 10 km which hit the village of Varnakesh in Mianeh the hardest, where five people lost their lives and some 30 houses were destroyed, local officials said.
President Hassan Rouhani called the local governor, ordering to allocate all means and resources to deal with the emergency. He also sent his Minister of Industry, Mines and Business Reza Rahmani to the quake-hit areas to closely monitor the situation.
Volunteer Basij forces rushed to villages shortly after the quake hit and pulled many survivors from the rubble, commander of 31st Ashura Division of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) General Abedin Khorram said.
"Given that a drill was being held in Mianeh, Basij forces were immediately dispatched to the quake-hit areas and rescued the villagers who were under the debris," he told Tasnim news agency.
Army units in northwestern provinces of East Azarbaijan and Ardabil have also been put on alert for rescue and relief operations.
Crisscrossed by several major fault lines, Iran is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 quake in Kerman province killed 26,000 people and flattened the ancient city of Bam.
At least three other significant quakes stuck in 2005, 2012, and 2017, which killed over 1,000 people.