Strong quake near Iran nuclear plant kills 3

A powerful earthquake struck near Iran's Gulf port city of Bushehr on Tuesday, killing at least three people and injuring 500 but leaving Iran's only nuclear power plant intact, officials said.

Shocks from the quake were felt across the Gulf in Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, provoking panic in some office towers, witnesses reported.

"No damage at all has been caused" to the plant, Bushehr provincial Governor Fereydoon Hasanvand told state television.

The facility's chief engineer, Mahmoud Jafari, told Arabic-language Al-Alam television that "no operational or security protocols were breached" by the quake.

The 6.1 magnitude quake hit at 4:22 pm (1152 GMT) with a depth of 12 kilometres (7.5 miles), in the area of Kaki, nearly 90 kilometers (55 miles) southeast of Bushehr, the Iran Seismological Centre said.

The head of Iran's Red Crescent rescue corps, Mahmoud Mozafar, said at least three dead bodies had been found and 500 other people were hurt, Iranian media reported.

There were no immediate details on where the casualties occurred, but Mozafar said initial reports indicated that at least one village, in the area of Khormoj, had been razed to the ground.

He said major "damage" was probable considering the rural nature of the stricken area, home to some 12,000 inhabitants.

Media reports said search and rescue teams were dispatched to the area, to which telephone connection has been cut.

The seismological centre has so far reported more than a dozen after shocks, the strongest at 5.3 magnitude.

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

Iran sits astride several major fault lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes, some of which have been devastating.

A double earthquake, one measuring 6.2 and the other 6.0, struck northwest Iran in August last year, killing more than 300 people and injuring 3,000.

In December 2010, a big quake struck the southern city of Bam. It killed 31,000 people -- about a quarter of the population -- and destroyed the city's ancient mud-built citadel.

The nuclear power plant in Bushehr, a long-delayed project finished by Russia, is yet to be fully operational.

On November 16, an International Atomic Energy Agency report said Iran, the only country with an operating nuclear reactor that does not adhere to the post-Chernobyl Convention on Nuclear Safety, has unloaded fuel at the Bushehr plant, shutting down the country's only functioning nuclear power station.

Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said at the time the move was a "normal technical procedure" but Western diplomats said it raised fresh questions about safety there.