The Pakistani army says it has evacuated 16 seriously injured people by helicopter from the site of a deadly earthquake near the Iranian border.
There were conflicting reports about the death toll from Tuesday's magnitude 7.8 earthquake, which was centred in southeastern Iran but also hit Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province.
Initially, a Pakistani military official said 34 had died in Pakistan, but the head of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Baluchistan, Maj.-Gen. Obaidullah Khattak, later told reporters in the hard-hit Mashkel area that 10-12 people were killed and about 30 injured.
Iran's state-run Press TV initially said 40 people were killed in Iran but later backed away from that figure.
Iran's main state TV channel said Wednesday that only one person was killed — a woman who was struck by falling rocks while she was collecting herbs — and that 12 people were injured.
The discrepancies and apparent backtracking in the reports could not be immediately reconciled. It was the second earthquake to hit Iran in less than week and the area struck Tuesday is remote and difficult to reach.
Quake felt over vast area
The quake toppled homes and shops on both sides of the Iran-Pakistan border and caused skyscrapers to sway in Dubai. It also forced Iranian officials — for the second time in less than a week — to issue assurances that its main nuclear reactor wasn't damaged.
Over 300 Pakistani soldiers, including doctors and engineers, were helping with the rescue and relief effort, the army said. The soldiers have set up a field hospital in the Mashkel area and have distributed food, medicine and blankets. Five army helicopters were participating in the relief operation, and some of them flew the more seriously injured to Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, the army said.
The population of the affected area in Pakistan is up to 15,000 people, and most houses are built of mud, the army said. Estimates of the numbers of homes destroyed in the Mashkel area have varied, with some officials saying the number is over 1,000.
A Pakistani policeman, Azmatullah Regi, said Tuesday that nearly three dozen homes and shops collapsed in just one village in the Mashkel area. Rescue workers pulled the bodies of a couple and their three children, ages five to 15, from the rubble of one house, he said.
One of the region's strongest quakes in 50 years
The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of the earthquake at 7.8 and said it occurred at a depth of 82 kilometres. Press TV said the quake was centred near Saravan, about 50 kilometres from the Pakistani border. The website of Tehran Geophysics Center said the quake lasted 40 seconds and called it the strongest in more than 50 years in one of the world's most seismically active areas.
The quake was felt over a vast area from New Delhi — about 1,500 kilometres from the epicentre — to Gulf cities that have some of the world's tallest skyscrapers, including the record 828-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Officials ordered temporary evacuations from the Burj Khalifa and some other highrises as a precaution.
Pakistani news channels showed buildings shaking in the southern city of Karachi, where people in panic came out from offices and homes.
In 2003, some 26,000 people were killed by a magnitude 6.6 quake that flattened the historic southeastern Iranian city of Bam. Two years later, a magnitude 7.6 quake killed about 80,000 people in northwestern Pakistan and Kashmir and left more than three million homeless.