Update: Fresh quake felt across UAE on Tuesday April 16 - click here for latest
A strong earthquake struck southern Iran yesterday, killing at least seven people and injuring dozens of others, while aftershocks spurred the evacuation of thousands of people from buildings across the Emirates. Today Iranian state radio said a magnitude 4.9 aftershock jolted the same area in southern Iran.
The report said it struck Bandar Khamir at 6:46 am and was the strongest in a string of aftershocks, following Wednesday's quake. Yesterday's 6.1 magnitude quake struck at about 3pm, causing tremors in the UAE a short time later. The epicentre of the quake was reportedly near the port city of Bandar Abbas in south-west Iran. Most of the damage in Iran occurred on Gheshm island, where 100 houses were destroyed in rural areas, according to the state news agency IRNA.
Reports suggested up to 45 people may have been injured. As the shockwaves reached the UAE, witnesses said buildings swayed in Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where the tremors lasted a few seconds. In Dubai, companies along Sheikh Zayed Road evacuated their offices and the Civil Defence Authority and police sent teams onto the streets, but there were no reports last night of any casualties or damage.
The Dubai International Financial Centre was among the buildings evacuated. "It happened all of a sudden, and we felt it because our chairs started rocking back and forth and side to side," said Alyssa Brown, 29, an Australian working as a legal secretary at DLA Piper in Emaar Business Park near The Greens who was at her desk when the tremors shook the ground. "The blinds started moving too. It lasted for about 10 seconds.
Everyone started freaking out." In Dubai Media City, employees evacuated Al Thuraya Tower after the alarm was sounded. "We all felt it and then heard the alarm sound. I've never felt anything like that before," said James Noughton, a media executive who works in the building. Charbel Karam, 25, a designer who works in Emirates Towers, said: "Immediately everyone ran down the stairs to get outside.
The security shut down the elevators. Everything seemed to be crazy, including the traffic on the roads. People were just going left and right. It was chaos." Mohammed Mashroom, director of the survey department at Dubai Municipality, said the epicentre of the earthquake was at Bandar Abbas, one of Iran's main ports which is home to a large oil refinery that primarily serves the domestic market. He said the magnitude felt in the UAE ranged from 2.8 to 4.8.
"Tremors were felt all through the city but all buildings in Dubai are safe," he said. Jamal Abdullah, head of the civil engineering department at American University of Sharjah, said the earthquake was of similar magnitude to the one that rocked the UAE in Nov 2005. "This one was probably slightly stronger and lasted for a longer period of time," Mr Abdullah said.
From Rolla to Buhaira Corniche, people living in high-rise buildings ran onto the streets. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority building on the Corniche was evacuated as fire alarms were triggered. "I was on the 26th floor when the whole building started to shake," one employee said.
"It was really scary and everyone began to get panicky. We're just not used to emergency situations here. The fire alarm went off and most people had to come down on the stairs. "Those of us who were on the higher floors felt it the most and felt really vulnerable. I dread to think how I'd have felt if I'd been on the top floor."
In Abu Dhabi, employees at a building in Al Bateen felt it sway significantly for at least a minute. "It was very disorientating. Initially we all thought it was our vision but then we all realised there was something wrong," said Dawn Sanderson, a solicitor who works in one of the offices.
"We all evacuated the building immediately. Gradually other people started to filter out of the building and stood around staring at each other mystified by what was going on." Another woman, who works in another building in Al Bateen, said: "I was very alarmed. I thought it was me and that I was going to pass out. The building was really moving, significantly." Angus McFarlane, the technical director at Hyder Consulting in Dubai, said: "London is more at risk of earthquakes than Dubai.
In Dubai we sometime get tremors from earthquakes. "This is not unsafe. It's to be expected and the buildings are designed to cope with it. "Taller buildings will move slightly, but they're designed for far larger local earthquakes fairly close to Dubai. What's more dangerous in Dubai are local earthquakes because buildings under four storeys are not designed to resist small earthquakes.
If we get some local earthquakes, which we do occasionally, places like Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah would be at risk." * With agencies and additional reporting by Robert Ditcham, Nour Samaha and Eugene Harnan