Tehran, 26 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- An Iranian official says several thousand people have perished in a massive earthquake that rocked Iran's southeast Kerman Province early today. Iran's Interior Ministry has refused to confirm the figure, cited by the province's member of parliament, Ali Hashemi. But Kerman Province Governor Mohammed Ali Karimi told state media "many people" have died in the 6.3-magnitude quake, which rocked Bam, a city of 80,000 people some 1,000 kilometers southeast of Tehran.
"The level of damage and casualties is very high. Our priority now is to bring out as many survivors as possible from the rubble, and we are in desperate need of manpower for this task," Karimi said.
Russia was among the first countries to offer assistance with Moscow announcing it is dispatching two planes with supplies and rescue personnel.
Iranian television said 60 percent of the houses in Bam had collapsed, killing many people as they slept.