TEHRAN, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- A catastrophic earthquake wracked a southeastern Iranian city Friday, killing an estimated 20,000 people, government sources said.
The quake, measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale, struck the ancient city of Bam at 5:01 a.m. local time, flattening 60-70 percent of the area's buildings and killing an estimated 20,000 residents, most of whom were sleeping, Sky News reported.
As many as 50,000 have been injured by the initial tremor and the after-shocks.
The quake cut telephone lines, electricity and water supplies in the city of 200,000, about 620 miles southeast of the capital of Tehran. Two of Bam's hospitals collapsed, crushing staff and leaving other hospitals packed.
President Khatami called the earthquake a "national tragedy," and the governor of Karman, the province where Bam is located, said at least 20 emergency rescue teams were set up in Kerman, about 125 miles north of Bam.
Helicopters and air transports, as well as trucks, medical vehicles and heavy construction equipment were rushing to the area.
Rescuers worried that victims trapped in the rubble could be as vulnerable to the freezing night temperatures as the initial shock of the earthquake.
"The situation is very critical and the humanitarian and material losses are very high," a provincial official said.
Worldwide, numerous nations responded with an outpouring of humanitarian support and sympathy.
Most structures in Bam are of mud construction and vulnerable to the area's frequent earthquakes. Bam is on UNESCO's list of "World Heritage Sites," and is home to a 2,000-year-old mud-brick citadel, which was reportedly destroyed.