File photo - A screen showing a seismograph reading of an earthquake.

A powerful earthquake measuring 5.6 in magnitude struck eastern Iran on Wednesday, 48 miles (77 km) north-northeast of Birjand, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

Iran's Fars news agency said people ran out of their houses in fear because of the severity of the quake but there was no immediate reports of loss of life. It said the earthquake measured 5.6 in strength and struck at 2038 local time (1708 GMT).

The USGS said the quake, which it initially recorded as magnitude 6.0, was very shallow at a depth of 3.3. miles and had hit the area at 1708 GMT.

Iran is situated on major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 which flattened the southeastern city of Bam and killed more than 25,000 people.

In August more than 300 people were killed when two quakes struck northwestern Iran. - Reuters