At least 250 people were killed today when an earthquake rocked Khorassan Province in northeastern Iran, leveling at least one village and toppling houses and mud huts, according to the official Pars news agency.
Pars said rescue teams were still sifting through the rubble of a string of villages in an area about 200 miles south of the town of Mashad near the border with Afghanistan.
"Lots of bodies are still being found. It is possible that the number of the dead will exceed 1,000," said Mohammed Ali Shirazi, speaking by telephone from the holy city of Mashad to reporters in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Shirazi, son of Ayatollah Ali Shirazi, religious leader in Mashad, said the quake affected 14 localities in the province.
Pars said the village of Bahnabad had been almost totally destroyed with hardly a building left standing.
Rescue teams and supplies were being rushed from Mashad, 500 miles east of Tehran, and other centers as military planes evacuated the injured to Qainat, in the south of the province.
Government officials were supervising rescue operations and distribution of tents and supplies to scores of people left homeless, Shirazi added.
In a Tehran Radio broadcast monitored in London, Iran's leader, Aytollah Ruhollah Khomeini said:
"We have received tragic and frightening reports on the earthquake in Khorassan and the extensive losses in property and lives . . . I call on it [the nation] to take immediate steps . . . this tragedy requires everyone's help . . ."
Shirazi said the earthquake was felt in Mashad, but did not cause any damage there.
Tehran Radio said the quake shook a wide area of the province from Tabas, Ferdows and Gonabad at 2 a.m. local time. A later broadcast said 250 bodies had been recovered from debris in Qaen, 200 miles south of Mashad.
The U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., said the quake registered 6.7 on the open-ended Richter scale. Tehran Radio said it measured 5.6 on the Richter scale.
Iran is frequently hit by sharp earthquakes that kill many and destroy entire towns.
The quake today devastated villages in the area where an earthquake in September last year killed some 15,000 people. That quake, which registered about 7.6 on Richter, was the worst to hit Iran this century.