Iran says it has stepped up relief efforts for survivors of a powerful earthquake that killed at least 37 people and injured 850 more in the country's southwest.

The relief operation announced on Wednesday will aid more than 90 villages in the southern province of Bushehr which was hit hard by the previous day's earthquake, according to Mahmoud Mozafar, head of Iran's Red Crescent rescue corps.

Authorities said the relief operation got under way a few hours after the 6.1-magnitude quake struck at 4:22pm (1152 GMT) on Tuesday.

Ali Alipour, the owner of a cultural centre in the village of Khormoj, said that "the sound of death filled the fields" during the earthquake.

"Water and food are being distributed among survivors. Portable toilets are also being set up," Alipour told AFP news agency by telephone.

About 2,100 tents have been set up in the quake zone, emergency officials said.

The state-run Fars news agency reported that at least 700 homes had been destroyed and that blankets and food have been sent to stricken areas.

Focus on relief operations

Mozafar said efforts were now focused on relief operations including around 1,000 tents that had been set up in quake-hit areas.

The government declared a three-day mourning period following the earthquake.

A programme manager at Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant said on Wednesday that the plant was functioning as normal.

 

Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, Iran's atomic chief, said that the power plant was not operational when the quake struck as it was "under maintenance", Iranian media reported.

Iran said it informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that there has been no damage to the power plant in Bushehr, nearly 90km northwest of the earthquake's epicentre, and no radioactive release.

The Russian company that built the nuclear power station, 18km south of Bushehr, also said the plant was unaffected.

"The earthquake in no way affected the normal situation at the reactor. Personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm," Russian state news agency RIA quoted an official at Atomstroyexport as saying.

Water and electricity were cut to many residents, Ebrahim Darvishi, governor of the worst-hit district Shonbeh, said.

The quake was felt across the Gulf in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where workers were evacuated from highrise buildings as a precaution. The quake hit at 11:52 GMT with a depth of 12km, the Iran Seismological Centre said.

The US Geological Survey, which monitors quakes worldwide, ranked the quake at a more powerful 6.3 magnitude.

Source: Agencies