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Scores dead in China earthquake

A strong earthquake that hit a hilly farming area in north-west China has killed at least 75 people and injured more than 400.

The quake near the city of Dingxi in Gansu province toppled brick walls and telephone lines, shattered mud-and-tile-roofed houses and sent cascades of dirt and rock down hillsides that blocked roads and slowed rescue efforts by crews trying to reach remote areas.

Hospitals set up aid stations to accommodate large numbers of injured, while hundreds of paramilitary People's Armed Police fanned out to search for victims in the region of terraced farmland where the quake struck about 760 miles west of Beijing.

Damage was worst in Min county in Dingxi's rural southern portion, where scores of homes were wrecked and phone and electricity services knocked out. All but three of the deaths, all the missing and most of the injured were in Min, a likely result of shoddy construction.

Residents said the shaking lasted about one minute, but was not strong enough to cause major damage in urban areas, where buildings are more solidly built.

Tremors were felt in the provincial capital of Lanzhou 110 mile) north, and as far away as Xi'an, 250 miles to the east.

The government's earthquake monitoring centre said the initial quake at 7.4 am was magnitude-6.6 and subsequent tremors included a magnitude-5.6. The Chinese Red Cross said it was sending 200 tents, 1,000 sets of household items, and 2,000 jackets to the area and sending teams from both Lanzhou and Beijing to help with relief work and assess further needs.

Heavy rain is expected in the area later in the week, raising the need for shelter and increasing the chance of further landslides.

Almost 2,000 homes were either destroyed or heavily damaged, with thousands more suffering partial damage, according to the Dingxi government . Gansu province, a region of mountains, desert and pastureland with a population of 26 million, is one of China's more lightly populated provinces.

China's worst earthquake in recent years was a 7.9-magnitude shock that struck the south-western province of Szechuan in 2008, leaving 90,000 people dead or missing.

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