A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck near the Iran-Pakistan border some 50 miles east of the Iranian city of Khash, according to the United States Geological Survey. The quake was felt for hundreds of miles in each direction.
An Iranian official told Reuters that hundreds are feared dead, though the latest Iranian state TV figures suggest closer to 40 people have died. Khash is a small city with approximately 60,000 people. The earthquake occurred at a depth of 51 miles.
"It was the biggest earthquake in Iran in 40 years and we are expecting hundreds of dead," the official told Reuters.
The earthquake, which struck at about 6:45 a.m. EDT, was more powerful than the 7.0 magnitude quake that killed more than 220,000 people in Haiti, but was less powerful than the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Chile in 2010. It is believed to be one of the strongest ever in Iran; a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck near the Southeastern coastal city of Khvormuj last week, killing more than 30.
The region is no stranger to seismic activity. According to the USGS, the Makran Trench, which runs deep beneath the Arabian Sea off the coast of southeast Iran, has produced "large devastating earthquakes and tsunamis" due to convergence of the Arabia and Eurasia tectonic plates. Tuesday's earthquake occurred approximately 1,000 miles from 2005's 7.5 magnitude earthquake near Kashmir, Pakistan, which killed more than 100,000 people.