At least eight people died, about 20 were injured and 12 towns suffered serious material damage in the magnitude-5.5 earthquake that rocked northeastern Iran, the local Fars news agency reported Thursday.

The quake struck the city of Zahan, in South Khorasan province, on Wednesday night cutting highways and electric lines servicing the zone, a situation that made rescue operations more difficult.

In the area hardest hit by the temblor, some 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Biryand, the capital of South Khorasan, where on Thursday morning it began to rain, the residents slept in the streets or out in the open after their homes collapsed and for fear of aftershocks that might bring down the remaining buildings.

Fars, citing local sources and assistance services personnel, reported that rescue teams had distributed some 5,000 blankets, 500 tents and more than 500 lanterns to those affected, as well as food and water.

Local authorities requested more aid for the local population from the provincial emergency management department and the Interior Ministry.

Like most of Iran, South Khorasan, bordering on Afghanistan, suffers frequent quakes, which over the past few decades have killed tens of thousands of people nationwide.

In the most recent sizable quake to strike Iran, last August, at least 306 people, most of them women and children, were killed and 3,037 were injured. EFE