A strong earthquake shook Kerman province late Monday in south-eastern Iran, leaving at least seven people dead and hundreds injured, the local governor told Mehr news agency.

The 6.5-magnitude earthquake shook several cities, towns and villages in the province. The epicentre was the village of Fahraj near the town of Hossein Abad.

Governor Ismael Najar said that based on initial observations from aid teams reporting back to his office, the casualties were mainly in the villages of Chah Qanbar, Tak Seyfeldini and Sarze Rigan.

Mr. Najar added that with some residents still buried under debris in the three villages, the death toll was feared to increase.

Rescue teams were trying hard to save the lives of those under the debris, and the airports of Kerman and Bam were readying to receive aid from other cities, the governor said.

The material damages is severe in both Kerman and neighbouring Sistan-Baluchestan province, Mr. Najar said.

Hundreds of injured people have already been taken to nearby hospitals and medical schools, which also serve as medical centres for those with minor injuries.

Residents of Kerman province were traumatized in December 2003 by a devastating earthquake, which killed more than 30,000 people in the city of Bam and nearby villages.

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