Earthquake in Iran: Two Dead After 6.1 Tremor Strikes Deep in Northeastern Iran

USGS said the quake occurred at a depth of 33 km in Mashhad.

FILE PHOTO: A hand drawn portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran in the city of Mashhad. Hossein Fatemi, Panos Pictures/Courtesy of World Press Photo Foundation/Handout via REUTERS.

A powerful magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck northeastern Iran near the holy city of Mashhad on Wednesday, killing at least two people as residents fled onto the streets and aftershocks shook the region.

The shallow temblor damaged at least four villages near its epicenter in the Sefid Sang district, a remote mountainous area home to 5,000 people, located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southeast of Mashhad, state TV's English-language Press TV channel reported. It said rescue teams and helicopters had deployed in Iran's Khorasan Razavi province to the area to assess the damage.

Semi-official Iranian news agencies posted videos online of panicked people in the streets, items falling off store shelves and photos of damaged buildings.

Press TV said at least one person was killed. The semi-official Fars news agency said five people were injured and that mobile phone service and landline telephone lines had been affected.

State media described the depth of the quake as only 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). Either a shallow earthquakes and or a magnitude 6 temblor on its own can cause serious damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake occurred at a depth of 33 km.

Iran is situated on a plateau that is riddled with fault lines. Like Israel, which is smack on the Great Rift Valley, it too experiences multiple – even hundreds – of quakes each year, but most pass unnoticed. The odd one is major, and in part because of widespread failure to adhere to building codes, Iran has suffered over 126,000 fatalities from quakes in recorded history.

For instance this January 7, a temblor struck in early morning but affected mainly a sparsely populated area in Fars province. However, the quake that shook Iran on December 26, 2003 is believed to have killed as many as 40,000 people, mainly in the city of Bam, where some 80% of the homes came crashing down. Again the culprit was building standards: though the risk of quake is well known, most of the houses in Bam were built of mud bricks, which were unable to withstand the stresses of the 6.5 magnitude quake.

Even more casualties were experienced in June 1990, when a quake just after midnight destroyed much of the region of Manjil–Rudbar. More than 50,000 are believed to have died in the 7.4-magnitude temblor, which did extensive damage in Tehran itself, and in the cities of Rudbar and Manjil.

As for Tehran itself, no less than six key faults run below the city of 12 million, and a series of relatively minor quakes in 2015 re-evoked concern about building quality in the Iranian capital. "This means you are either on a fault or a few meters from one wherever you are in Tehran," urban sociologist Azam Khatam told Al-Monitor that year.