A 7.3 magnitude earthquake has struck the border region between Iraq and Iran, killing more than 168 people and injuring an estimated 1,000 more, according to local media.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) said Sunday’s powerful quake hit close to Halabjah, southeast of Sulaymaniyah, a city in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
The tremor, which was felt as far away as Qatar, struck at 9.18 p.m local time (18:18) GMT. Its epicentre was at a depth of 33.9 kilometres.
Iranian news agency ISNA said at least 61 people were killed and 300 injured in Kermanshah province on the Iraqi border.
Most of the victims are believed to be in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab.
Iranian media said rescue teams deployed in the area amid fears the death toll will rise.
Crossed by several major fault lines, Iran is one of the world’s most seismically active countries.
In 2003, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam in southeastern Iran, killing some 26,000 people.
On the other side of the border, Sulaymaniyah officials declared an emergency in the early hours of Monday to assess the aftermath of the quake, according to local Kurdish media.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, said cars came to a standstill in the city as the buildings began to sway.
“Baghdad is not prone to earthquakes so when people began to come outside, the shock was visible on the faces,” he said.
“For the first few seconds, I actually thought an explosion had taken place, but as it carried on – for up to a minute – I realised it was an earthquake,” he added.
Pictures and footage published on social media showed people seeking safety in the streets of Sulaymaniyah while the interiors of buildings shook.
Electricity was cut off in several Iranian and Iraqi cities, and fears of aftershocks sent thousands of people in both countries out onto the streets and parks in cold weather.
The Iranian seismological centre registered around 50 aftershocks and said more were expected.
The head of Iranian Red Crescent said more than 70,000 people were in need of emergency shelter.
Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said some roads were blocked and were worried about casualties in remote villages. The Iranian armed forces have been deployed to help the emergency services.
Iran sits astride major fault lines and is prone to frequent tremors. A magnitude 6.6 quake on Dec. 26, devastated the historic city of Bam, 1,000 km (600 miles) southeast of Tehran, killing about 31,000 people.