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Powerful earthquake strikes the Iraq-Iran border, at least 36 dead

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A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.3 has struck northwest Iran near the border with Iraq, seismologists and residents say. Shaking was felt across large parts of the Middle East and at least 36 people have been killed.

The earthquake, which struck at 9:18 p.m. local time on Sunday, was centered about 32 kilometers (20 miles) south of Halabja, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan. The epicenter is just a short distance from the border with northeast Iraq.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) put the preliminary magnitude of Sunday’s earthquake at 7.3, up from an initial estimate of 7.2. It struck about 23 kilometers (14 miles) below the surface, making it a relatively shallow earthquake.

Buildings were destroyed on both the Iraqi and Iranian side of the border, but the extent of the damage and casualties was not immediately known. Rescue work continued on early Monday morning as people were still believed to be buried under rubble.

At least 30 people were killed in Iran and 200 others were injured, the deputy governor of Kermanshah Province said. In Iraq, at least 6 people were killed and more than 500 others were injured, according to the Joint Crisis Coordination Center of the Kurdish government.

“I never felt anything stronger than this in my life,” a resident in Sulaymaniyah, about 89 kilometers (55 miles) from the epicenter, told the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center. Others also reported feeling very strong shaking.

The tremors were also felt in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, eastern Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or casualties from those countries.

According to computer models from the USGS, as many as 70.4 million people across the region may have felt Sunday’s earthquake, including 239,000 people who may have experienced “very strong” to “severe” shaking.

“Overall, the population in this region resides in structures that are highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking, though some resistant structures exist,” the USGS said in an assessment. “Significant casualties and damage are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread.”

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