Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

China earthquake death toll rises

A man holds an injured child receiving treatment at a hospital after the earthquake in south-west China's Yunnan province (AP)
Men search the rubble of buildings for survivors after the earthquake in Zhaotong City in south-west China's Yunnan province (AP/Xinhua/Hu Chao)

Rescuers have found scores of survivors as they dug through homes shattered by an earthquake in southern China that killed at least 398 people and injured more than 1,800.

Rainstorms are expected to continue to hinder rescue efforts over the coming days.

About 12,000 homes collapsed when the quake struck on Sunday afternoon in Ludian county, around 230 miles north-east of Yunnan province's capital, Kunming, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Rescuers digging in the debris by hand freed a five-year-old boy whose legs were injured, Xinhua reported. It also said firefighters rescued 32 people who had been trapped but had retrieved the bodies of 43 residents.

Drenched survivors were sitting along muddy roads in the rain waiting for food and medication, Xinhua reported. Medics were reporting severe shortages of medicine and an inability to perform operations on the severely injured, while rescuers said their work had been hampered by continuous downpours and quake-triggered landslides.

Ma Yaoqi, an 18-year-old volunteer in the quake zone, said that at least half of the buildings had collapsed on the road from the city centre of Zhaotong to the hardest-hit town of Longtou. The rest of the buildings were damaged, she said.

"I saw dead bodies being wrapped in quilts and carried away," said Ms Ma, who arrived with 20 other volunteers on Monday. "Some were wrapped with small quilts. Those must be kids."

Overhead footage of the quake zone shot by a state broadcaster showed older houses flattened but newer multi-storey buildings still standing.

The 6.1 magnitude quake struck at a depth of six miles, according to the US Geological Survey. China's earthquake monitoring agency put the magnitude at 6.5.

Dozens of trucks carrying paramilitary troops with banners declaring "help is on the way" travelled along the four-lane road from Kunming to Zhaotong on Monday evening.

Heavy rain and thunderstorms in the area were complicating efforts to bring tents, water, food and other relief supplies to survivors. Roads had caved in, and rescuers were forced to travel on foot.

The national meteorological centre said the area near the centre of the quake would suffer thunder showers over the next three days.

Repeated aftershocks were also making the rescue work dangerous.

The Yunnan Civil Affairs Bureau said on its website that 398 people were killed, three were missing and a further 1,801 injured. The death toll is expected to rise after rescuers reach remote communities to assess casualties. About 230,000 people had been evacuated.

Many of the homes that collapsed in Ludian, which has a population of about 429,000, were old and made of brick, Xinhua said, adding that electricity and telecommunications were cut off in the county.

The mountainous region where the quake occurred is largely agricultural, with farming and mining the top industries, and is prone to earthquakes.

More than 2,500 troops were dispatched to the disaster region, Xinhua said. The government also sent thousands of tents, quilts, sleeping bags, coats, folding beds, chairs and tables, and 50 mobile toilets, Xinhua said.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reached the worst-hit area on Monday afternoon to oversee quake relief, state media reported.

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