MOSCOW (AP) -- A strong earthquake hit Soviet Georgia yesterday, causing rock slides in mountain villages and killing about 40 people, authorities reported.
It was also felt in neighboring Armenia, which was devastated by a 1988 earthquake that killed 25,000 people. There were no reports of damage or injuries in Armenia.
Police spokesman Zurab Kadzhaya in the Georgian town of Kutaisi, near the epicenter, said last night that about 40 people were killed and that buildings in five mountain towns had suffered widespread damage.
The official Tass news agency earlier had reported 30 people killed. It was not immediately known how many people were injured.
The earthquake struck at 12:13 p.m. (5:13 a.m. EDT) in north-central Georgia among sparsely populated towns in the Caucasus Mountains. It measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, according to the Soviet Union's Central Seismic Station.
Don Finley of the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va., put the Richter reading at 7.2 and said the quake released about four times as much energy as did the 1988 Armenian quake.
The epicenter was near Dzhava, a town of 11,000 about 60 miles northwest of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
An aftershock as powerful as the initial quake struck the region at 9:33 p.m. (2:33 p.m. EDT), Tass said. U.S. Geological Survey spokeswoman Pat Jorgenson in Menlo Park, Calif., said the aftershock registered 6.2 on the Richter scale.
In a report from Dzhava, Soviet television showed collapsed build
ings and others with gaping holes. Rescuers standing atop a mound of rubble dug frantically with their hands to remove large stones in search of further victims.
The independent Interfax news agency said a kindergarten, a high school, a hospital and a printing house were among buildings destroyed there, in addition to 30 homes.
Mr. Kadzhaya said by telephone from Kutaisi, 63 miles west of Dzhava, that about 40 people were killed in the region yesterday and that about 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed in Dzhava, Ambrolauri, Onei, Chiatura and Sachkhere.
"It was terrible, really terrible," Marina Ivanova, a pediatrician in Tbilisi, said by telephone.