TEHRAN – A 5.9-magnitude earthquake hit 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 Sunday.
Panicked residents fled their homes as buildings collapsed and rubble crushed cars, with hundreds seeking shelter from freezing winter conditions in evacuation centers as more than 20 aftershocks rattled the region.
The shallow quake hit the city of Khoy, with a population of around 200,000, in West Azarbaijan province at 9:44 pm (1814 GMT) Saturday, said the Seismological Center of the University of Tehran.
“This incident has left 816 injured and three dead,” West Azarbaijan governor Muhammad Sadeq Motamedian was quoted as saying by IRNA news agency.
People were seen wrapped in blankets and huddling around fires in the snow-dusted region, in images published by Iranian media, as national TV broadcast footage of major damage to residential buildings, including half-destroyed houses.
Buildings in 70 villages suffered quake damage, IRNA reported, with rescuers clearing rubble to free those trapped in the area around 800 kilometers (500 miles) northwest of the capital Tehran.
Iran’s Red Crescent Society chief, Pirhussein Koolivand, later announced the search and rescue operations had finished, with no more survivors or bodies believed trapped.
Iran’s interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi, travelled to Khoy to observe the situation, where he said water, power and gas connections were impacted but being restored, IRNA reported.
Hamid Mahbubi, head of the Red Crescent Department in West Azarbaijan, said 500 relief and rescue teams had been dispatched to Khoy since late Saturday.
Iran sits astride the boundaries of several major tectonic plates and experiences frequent seismic activity.
On January 18, a previous, 5.8-magnitude quake near Khoy left hundreds injured.
In February 2020, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck the western Turkey village of Habash-e Olya and killed at least nine people.
Iran’s deadliest recorded quake was a 7.4-magnitude tremor in 1990 that killed 40,000 people, injured 300,000 and left half a million homeless in the country’s north.
In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake in southeastern Iran leveled the ancient mud-brick city of Bam and killed at least 28,000 people.
In November 2017, a 7.3-magnitude quake in Iran’s western province of Kermanshah killed 620 people.