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Magnitude-7.8 earthquake rocks Iran and Pakistan, kills at least 38

A massive earthquake hit southeast Iran, the largest in over 50 years to strike the region. NBC's Ali Arouzi reports.

TEHRAN -- A powerful earthquake rocked Iran and Pakistan on Tuesday, collapsing buildings and killing at least 38 people.

The quake, rated at magnitude 7.8 by the U.S. Geological Survey and 7.5 by the European-Mediterranean Seismological Agency, was centered about 50 miles east of the city of Khash, Iran, but shook tall buildings as far away as New Delhi, nearly 1,500 miles away.

It struck at 3:44 p.m. local time (6:44 a.m. ET), and aftershocks, including a magnitude-4.4 tremor at 6:24 p.m. local time, continued to be felt hours later, the European agency said.

Official sources in Mashkhel District in Pakistan's Balochistan province said 38 people were killed there, while 170 were injured, including 30 in critical condition. Relief and rescue efforts were slowed once darkness fell.

Sources said they feared more casualties would be found under the rubble. The death toll was expected to rise, as 35 people were still missing.

Iran declared a state of emergency in the region, and rescue teams were dispatched from the surrounding area to the remote site, state-run news agency IRNA reported. The Pakistani military moved forces and equipment into its border territories, where houses and shops had collapsed, the army said in a statement. 

IRNA called the earthquake a "huge disaster," but it was difficult to independently assess the extent of damage. State-run Press TV initially said that at least 40 people had been killed, including seven in Pakistan, but later backed off those numbers.

However, a hospital in the Iranian city of Saravan, which is close to the epicenter, reported 10 fatalities.

While the earthquake's epicenter was in a thinly populated area, the USGS estimated that about 400,000 people live in areas where the shaking was very strong to severe; 1.7 million live in areas where it was considered strong; and another 2.6 million are in territories where it was classified as moderate.

The U.S. State Department expressed its condolences for the lives lost in the earthquake.

"The United States sends our deepest condolences for those lost in the earthquake in southeastern Iran and western Pakistan today," a statement released Tuesday read. "Our thoughts are with the families of those who were killed, those who were injured, and with those communities that have suffered damage to homes and property. We stand ready to offer assistance in this difficult time."

The Tehran Geophysics Center said the quake lasted 40 seconds and described it as the country's strongest in more than 50 years.

Shakil Adil / AP

People evacuate buildings and gather on the street after a tremor of an earthquake is felt in Karachi, Pakistan, on Tuesday. Described as the strongest to hit Iran in more than half a century, the quake flattened homes and offices near Iran's border with Pakistan.

Soon after the quake, reports from those who felt it came pouring in to the EMSA from skyscraper-heavy places including Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and even New Delhi. 

In Fujairah, UAE, a witness reported to EMSA "some shaking and trembling" and "everyone on the streets," adding, "Hanging things were swinging." 

Another in Dubai, which is famous for its imposing skyscrapers, said her office building swayed for around 20 seconds and was evacuated.

In Karachi, Pakistan, almost 400 miles from the epicenter, a witness said, "I felt my laptop and table shake noticeably."

And in New Delhi, a witness reported feeling two shocks a few seconds apart. "The first was short and slight, and the second was stronger and lasted longer -- maybe 10 seconds."

Tuesday's quake was the second significant one in Iran in a week.

An April 9 earthquake near the country's only nuclear power plant killed 37 people and injured at least 850 more, leaving entire villages devastated.

Despite the scare caused by that quake, Iran pledged that it would continue to build more reactors in the heavily seismic region, which is hundreds of miles from the site of the latest temblor, on the other side of the country's south.

Iran has a history of devastating earthquakes. A magnitude-6.6 quake in 2003 killed an estimated 31,000 people, and a 7.5 in 1990 killed as many as 50,000, according to the USGS.

NBC News' Marian Smith and Fakhar Rehman contributed to this report.


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